If heaven is a banquet where you can eat all you want, then I have an idea what it’s like: Viet Nam Restaurant’s lunch buffet.

In recent months, new owners Tung Le and Cuk Chung have offered a plethora of classic Vietnamese dishes in an all-you-can-eat lunch special, remarkably priced at $4.99 per person. Most of the buffet items can be ordered from the dinner menu at night.

The restaurant, located at the corner of Bryan and Peak, has changed hands several times over the past decade. In the early ‘80s, it enjoyed a strong following as La Pagode, a Vietnamese-French restaurant. Subsequent owners added Indian dishes to the menu with mixed success.

The most recent ownership change marks a return to the classic Vietnamese cuisine that originally put the restaurant on the map. Viet Nam doesn’t have a liquor license, but permits patrons to bring their own beer and wine. The restaurant’s sunny interior is casual and inviting, and the wait staff helpful.

Cruising the lunch buffet could bring on a gluttony attack. A host of salads and fresh fruits beckons on one quadrant of the buffet counter. Most notable is a Vietnamese cabbage slaw with chicken and tofu, tossed with a sweet, lemony dressing. Children will appreciate the fruit salad and sweet, fried bananas.

It was difficult stopping with just one bowl of the sweet and sour soup – a cut above the Chinese variety. The light, lemony broth held sweet fresh pineapple, tender chunks of chicken breast and crunchy bean sprouts. The fried egg rolls looked tempting; but with so many main dishes to sample, we passed.

Of the half-dozen buffet entrees, Lemongrass Chicken was my favorite. Although barely veiled in sauce, the moist chicken breast pieces packed plenty of flavor and a hint of hot red pepper. Other winners include a spicy barbecued pork in a garlicky sauce; charbroiled chicken so flavorful it must have been marinated; and a delicately seasoned shrimp low mein with Vietnamese noodles.

Dessert was hidden in the salad bar: a generously sized coconut cookie with a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth crumb.

The restaurant’s dinner menu features most of the lunch buffet items as well as some outstanding fresh seafood dishes. Noodles with shrimp, scallops, chicken and mixed vegetables ($7) won us over. The dish boasted a generous amount of fresh seafood and crunchy stir-fried vegetables in a light, gingery sauce. Even the leftovers of this dish were good the next day. A seafood version of the sweet and sour soup also was a standout.

Judging from the modest crowd at Viet Nam on our first visit, word of the restaurant is slowing seeping out among the business lunchers. If the new management keeps turning out fine food at affordable prices, it’s just a matter of time before a loyal following develops.

But don’t wait until the lines form – go now. Viet Nam is located at 4302 Bryan at Peak (821-4542).