Dining With Denise Neil

Review: SpringRo lets customers build their own Vietnamese rolls, bowls

The shrimp is grilled inside SpringRo’s giant spring rolls.
The shrimp is grilled inside SpringRo’s giant spring rolls. The Wichita Eagle

The corner of 37th and Woodlawn has for years been the spot for fast-service Asian food.

Several restaurants in that genre have come and gone from spaces in different strip centers near the intersection. Pho Cuong at 6605 E. 37th St. North, near the southeast side of the intersection, was preceded by Koi Fusion and, before that, by Samurai Japanese Grill. Over on the northwest side, at 6524 E. 37th St. North, SpringRo Vietnamese Rolls and Bowls opened this past summer in the former Tsunami Char-Broiled Teriyaki space, which is just two doors down from a Great Wall Chinese carry-out restaurant.

SpringRo’s focus is fast, build-your-own Vietnamese dishes, specifically spring rolls – some of the fattest, most filled rolls you’ll see in these parts. Owner Lan Tran opened the restaurant in August and now seems to be drawing good crowds from nearby offices, apartment complexes and neighborhoods, especially at lunch.

A recent chilly afternoon seemed like a good time to visit the restaurant, an order-at-the-counter place that offers a small, straight-forward menu of spring rolls, banh mi sandwiches, “spring bowls,” pho, Asian appetizers and my new favorite dessert: Taiwanese shaved ice.

We walked into a restaurant almost as cold inside as it was outside. We kept our coats on and approached the counter, where we saw staff members constructing the biggest spring rolls I’ve ever seen. The rolls come three to an order and are customizable. Diners can choose rolls made with steak, shrimp, pork, chicken or tofu and add lettuce leaves, cilantro or jalapenos. They can ask the rollers to go light or heavy on the vermicelli noodles. Those who don’t specify what they want, which I didn’t, get the works, heavy on the noodles.

The spring rolls were a highlight, partially because they’re freshly made. My favorite was the shrimp, which was tightly rolled despite its burrito-ish girth and visibly filled with several pieces of grilled shrimp, the noodles and the bright, green lettuce. I doused mine in soy ginger sauce, available from a serve-yourself sauce bar that also had peanut sauce, garlic hoisin sauce and spicy chili sauce. The big, vibrantly green piece of lettuce added a fresh crunch, and the plentiful noodles soaked up the soy ginger sauce. Next time, I’ve decided, I’ll make the rolls my meal, order three different varieties and eat them all.

From the appetizer menu, we also tried the crab Rangoon, which were delivered fresh from the fryer and shaped into flat triangles. They came three to an order, and the wonton was fried to a crispy golden color after it was stuffed with a sweet, creamy center. They warmed us up a little. We also asked for a cup of the wonton soup with macaroni, mainly because we were curious why wonton soup needed macaroni. It turns out it doesn’t. Though the gingery broth was deeply flavored and the tender wontons had a chewy meat center, there were only two of them floating in the cup, and the macaroni proved to be an unnecessary and unsatisfying filler.

The restaurant’s “spring bowls” were a take on bun, a Vietnamese dish made by layering vermicelli noodles, lettuce, veggies, cilantro, jalapeno and grilled meats – a popular choice in Wichita’s established sit-down Vietnamese restaurants. Because SpringRo is a build-your-own kind of place, diners can substitute the noodles for white or fried rice, which sounded interesting. I chose fried rice and selected grilled pork as my protein. The meal was served in a plastic bowl, and I would have loved it if the fried rice had been hotter. It came out lukewarm. Otherwise, the pork – cut into strips and coated in a sweet, almost Teriyaki sauce – was tender, and the lettuce, carrots, cucumber and jalapenos were neatly arranged into little compartments, almost bi bim bap style. When I dressed it up with a little more of that soy ginger sauce and stirred it all together, the flavors and textures mixed well.

The banh mi was OK. We ordered it with chicken, which was tossed in the same type of sweet sauce that coated the pork. The chicken was a little gamey, but we liked how soft the French bread was. I wish I’d tried it with pork or shrimp instead. The pho, the only item served in a nondisposable dish, had a rich broth, but the thin strips of steak were tough and chewy.

The biggest surprise was on the dessert menu. I’ve been meaning to try the Taiwanese ice that has become popular at other local restaurants like Krispy’s Fried Chicken & Seafood at 3009 S. Hillside and Beard Papa’s, the cream puff chain in Towne East Square. The flavored ice is shaved in thin ribbons, which gives it an airy, melt-in-your mouth quality. It’s what I imagine frozen cotton candy would taste like. Only creamy.

SpringRo had the ice available in green tea and mango flavors. It’s served in a flower-shaped bowl, piled high and topped with mandarin oranges, raspberries, almonds and fresh mint. We tried green tea, which the person at the counter said was most popular, and it was addictive. It took a few bites for our palates to become accustomed to the tea flavor, but we loved the texture, and once we started scooping up the fruit, we finished the whole thing. Quickly.

The service was good, though it did take a while for our food to arrive. But since it’s being made fresh, we weren’t surprised. SpringRo also has a nifty and sophisticated online ordering system on its website that makes placing to-go orders easy and convenient.

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

SpringRo Vietnamese Rolls & Bowls

1/2 out of four

Where: 6524 E. 37th St. North, Suite 180; 316-226-9123

Type of food: Vietnamese

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Price range: Spring rolls are $6.65-$7.65, or a single roll is $2.25. Bowls are $7.95-$9.95. Sandwiches are $5.65-$6.65. Pho is $7.95-$8.95. Shaved ice is $6.75.

Alcohol: No

Website: www.springro.com