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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the LA Chowhound community.

Catch of the Day, for Cheap

Santa Monica Seafood just opened a casual café, where Westsiders can grab a fresh-from-the-sea meal for less than $10.

It’s in a former Carl’s Jr. and retains some of the feel of a fast-food joint—you order at the counter—and there’s a rather pervasive odor of fried fish. But hang in there; this is no Long John Silver’s.

Spicy tuna burger seems to be the best bet so far, with a nice slab of tuna, thickly sliced tomato, a toasty warm bun, and a sauce with a nice kick, says buttermarblepopcorn.

Fried calamari is the breaded and seasoned sort, but done well and not greasy. Clam chowder (just $2 with a sandwich) is chock-full of clams, with an extra-thick consistency.

The tuna melt is pretty weak, notes Xericx. It’s basically garlic bread sandwiching tuna salad, with some cheddar.

Also on the menu: grilled fish, fish tacos, a few sandwiches, and more appetizers.

10th Street Café [Westside–Beaches]
1000 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica

Board Links: Santa Monica Seafood’s new cafe
Santa Monica Seafood A.K.A. 10th St. Cafe

The Great Pho of Little Saigon

The older sister of Pho 79’s owner has opened a place in San Gabriel, reportedly using the same recipes, says raytamsgv. Pho tai is generally pretty good, though it somehow seems wrong to be watching a Bee Gees reunion concert on the wide-screen TV while you eat.

“Between the tired appointments and the lackadaisical service, I keep expecting to find some reason not to like [the old] Pho 79, but the pho is SOOOOO good and SOOOO cheap,” says Will Owen, who thinks it’s just about the best.

In Little Saigon, Pho 79 ties with Pho Thanh Lich for the best pho, says Das Ubergeek.

Pho Thanh Lich’s pho tai dac biet, or house special pho tai, is made with filet mignon. Get it on the side so you can dip it in the broth and cook it rare yourself, rather than have it boil in the soup before it even reaches your table. The broth is incredibly rich, with the deep flavor of long cooking, the noodles perfectly done.

The bun cha gio thit nuong, vermicelli with spring rolls and grilled pork, is also very good, and the portion is huge.

Trying to hunt down eatdrinknbmerry’s favorite Chiu Chow place, though, Das Ubergeek unfortunately confused New Trieu Chau with Trieu Chau and ended up ordering rice porridge with no more flavor than water, served with ketchup. Not only is “new” not better in this case, the two aren’t even related.

At the right Trieu Chau, kingkong5 is a fan of the mi dac biet—egg noodle soup with pork, shrimp, and fried-chicken broth. It’s good with xiu mai, little pork meatballs. There’s also an off-the-menu special of tasty pork bone broth, soup hoac (pronounced “whack”).

Pho 79 [San Gabriel Valley]
980 E. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel

Pho 79 [San Gabriel Valley]
29 S. Garfield Avenue, Alhambra

Pho 79 [San Gabriel Valley]
535 W. Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel

Pho 79 [Orange County]
9200 Bolsa Ave #117, Westminster

Pho 79 [Orange County]
9941 Hazard Avenue, Garden Grove

Pho Thanh Lich [Orange County]
14500 Brookhurst Street, Westminster

Pho Thanh Lich [710 Corridor]
1036 E. Anaheim Street, Long Beach

New Trieu Chau Restaurant [Orange County]
9902 Westminster Boulevard, Garden Grove

Trieu Chau [Orange County]
4401 W. First Street, Santa Ana

Board Links: Pho 79 expands—Saigon Eden in San Gabriel
Explorations on Brookhurst: Pho Thanh Lich, Westminster
Explorations on Brookhurst: New Trieu Chau, Garden Grove
Vote for the best Hole-In-The-Wall (Michelin-style)

Din Tai Fung’s Dumpling Creep

Lovers of juicy dumplings, rejoice: Din Tai Fung has opened another spot, kind of a stand-alone extension, one plaza over from the original location.

The new building is lovely and airy with high ceilings, says mileena, and it has a second floor for even more seating. The chef is the same for both restaurants, according to the staff, and you can go to either building for a table.

Din Tai Fung [San Gabriel Valley]
1108 S. Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia

Board Link: Din Tai Fung Dumpling House: New Location

New Vietnam Restaurant Challenges Big Sibs

“Oftentimes I’ll get an incredible urge for Vietnamese food and drive like a crazed lunatic to Golden Deli only to learn that about 100 other people have had the same urge as me, but got to the restaurant about 10 seconds before I did,” says ipsedixit.

Some folks opt instead for Vietnam House, owned by the same people and just across the street, which offers better parking, has a beer and wine license, and takes credit cards.

But the newish Vietnam Restaurant, just down the street, has the goods to compare with the big boys. Never mind that it’s in a space “best described as a shack masquerading as an eye-sore of a building,” whose previous, short-lived tenants have included a Chinese fast-food joint and a Thai takeout place.

The owners, a couple, were previously part owners of Vietnam House, which is related to Golden Deli, but they left because of a family squabble, says SoCal Foodie, who adds that the wife originated most of Vietnam House’s recipes anyway, and says the new restaurant has the best-tasting pho and egg rolls in SoCal.

ipsedixit finds the food at Vietnam Restaurant better than at House (and also prefers Golden Deli to House). The menu is limited, but the bún bò kho is some of the best in the SGV, with tender meat and rich, savory broth. In fact, all the beef dishes are great, including the com bò kho.

Golden Deli [San Gabriel Valley]
815 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel

Vietnam House [San Gabriel Valley]
710 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel

Vietnam Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
340 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel

Board Link: Vietnam Restaurant (SGV)

A Taste of Porto’s in Orange County

There was something awfully familiar about the delicious refugiado, or guava-cheese pastry, at the new Cuban place in Anaheim, thought Das Ubergeek. Upon inquiry, it turned out that Café Contigo gets its pastries, frozen, from the Porto’s Bakery warehouse in Irwindale (as the Porto’s retail outlets themselves do), and they bake up beautifully in-house.

Café Contigo can take full credit for its excellent Cuban café con leche, though, essentially a café latte with a little raw molasses to take the edge off, and no foam. Some free biscottilike pastries by the register are good for dunking, and these sweeten the coffee just enough to make it perfect.

Sandwiches and soups are made in-house—fingers crossed for a great Cuban sandwich.

Café Contigo [Orange County]
327 S. Anaheim Boulevard #A, Anaheim

Board Link: REVIEW: Cafe Contigo, Anaheim

The Best Bundle of Tentacles

Asa Ramen already has been touted for its top-tier ramen, and now it has another claim to glory: takoyaki, says pirikara. These Japanese tidbits are pan-fried croquettes studded with pieces of fresh octopus tentacle.

The chef at Asa says his takoyaki contain a secret ingredient that gives the interior an almost puddinglike consistency. Sure enough, the hot takoyaki are crispy on the outside and practically oozing within. They come topped with mayo, scallions, a soy-based sauce, and a flurry of dried bonito flakes. The home-style flavor stands out even from restaurant versions in Japan—undoubtedly the result of much trial and error.

A half dozen takoyaki go for $4 to $5.

Asa Ramen [South Bay]
18202 S. Western Avenue, Gardena

Board Link: Impressive Octopus Balls (aka “takoyaki”)

Student-Raised Squash Is a Steal

Cal Poly Pomona’s farm store is bursting with an autumnal bounty, reports Mattapoisett in LA.

There’s an entire side patio devoted to squash, and a staff member commented that seven times that amount is in storage. These squash aren’t just your usual varieties but also include hubbard, turban, spaghetti, carnival, Chinese, and quite a few others.

Also available are serrano chiles for 29 cents a pound and student-raised steak, roast, and other meats.

Farm Store at Kellogg Ranch [Inland Empire]
4102 University Drive, Pomona

Board Link: Get Squashed!

Szechuan Cuisine Declines in SGV; Hunan’s Star on the Rise

Best Szechwan, formerly known as Jia Wei, is no more, reports Jerome.

After selling Best Szechwan earlier this year, the original owners opened Golden River in Artesia. Unfortunately, the food hasn’t survived the transition, says ScottE. The new restaurant is bigger and better decorated, but over several visits he found that dishes that had been 9 to 10 points on a 10-point scale had declined to 4 or 5. Twice-cooked pork, which at Best Szechwan was the best version he’d had out of hundreds, was the worst at Golden River. For what it’s worth, though, the restaurant recently had an ad for its $7.99 crab special.

Demand for Szechuan food in LA seems to have declined, comments ipsedixit (who considers Hong Yei a pretender and Chung King just not very good). ipsedixit speculates that the new “It” Chinese region might just be Hunan.

Speaking of Hunanese, brwencino confirms that Hunan Seafood is owned by the proprietors of the late Hunan Restaurant, which burned down, and formerly of Crown Café. It’s been open just a few weeks, and the food is as excellent as ever.

Golden River Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
11700 South Street, Artesia

Hunan Seafood Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
8772 E. Valley Boulevard, Rosemead

Board Links: Best Szechwan/ Jia Wei 佳味川菜 has closed (i think)
Hunan Seafood-Out Of The Flames!
Hunan Seafood Opens At Old Pho King Location

Look Past the Burgers and Tacos, and Go for the Arepas

You might not realize it right away, but the new Highland Park taqueria El Chile is Venezuelan-owned, and arepas share pride of place on the menu with burgers.

These fried masa patties are stuffed, like tacos or gorditas; arepa con pollo and con queso blanco are crisp, juicy, and delectable, says poormet. Yeah, they’re kinda greasy, but in a good way. Nice salsas are on the bar as a go-with.

The tacos are OK, and the chili cheeseburgers are a kid pleaser, adds Layne Murphy.

El Chile [East of Hollywood]

4017 N. Figueroa Street, Highland Park

Board Link: El Chile in Highland Park

Another Clover Coffee Maker Downtown

A new independent café/coffee shop boasts one of the cultish, $11,000, single-serve Clover coffee makers. But Rick, the owner, doesn’t hype it—he says his focus is just on great coffee, reports foodfoodfood. Rick clearly gets all the subtleties of the process, from bean selection and roast to brew time. The place is easy to miss, tucked away in a small center of beautiful old red brick with lots of arches.

Café Corsa [Downtown]
2238 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles

Board Link: Cafe Corsa–Clover #4 in LA!