My parents swung into town again and flexed their old-world connections, called up a few cousins and uncles, and took me to Brodard's in Westminster.
The specialty, my cousin said, was the crepes. And the nem nuoung.
As we walked into the place, a happy-looking family came out, and my mother asked what we should get, and he said, "Definitely the crepes."
Asked the waiter what the specialty of the house was. "Banh xeo," he said. This is the Vietnamese name for crepe - banh means, er, cake or pastry or sandwich, and xeo means sizzle, I think.
Anyway, so the crepes were fantastic - best I've ever had. Vietnamese took the notion of crepes, I figure, from the French, and Vietified it. Vietnamese crepes are thicker than their French compadres, and, if properly done, displays that particularly Asian fetish for crunchy-crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and the love for sweetness and savory. The crepes are folded around some sprouts and shrimp. Brodard's are perfect - satisfyingly crunchy and browned and zestily salty on the outside, and the inside is actually creamy, almost oozing - it's almost like pudding, flecked with bits of scallion, perfectly slightly-sweet and touched with turmeric, so as to always hit your tongue deep and almost curry-ish, and to dissolve into a purer sweetness.
They've got fine nem nuoung - name translates, I think, to "flavored grilled," which is basically a ground pork-ball with a lot of savory and sweet seasonings, wrapped up in the usual raw-rice-paper-noodle combo. Very fine.
My favorite thing there, though, was the banh khot, which is a variation on the theme. Banh means cake, and khot means - actually, I don't know, but it's pronounced like you're phlegming up for a spit. Banh khot is basically 2/3 of a ball of the same dough as the crepe, but made thicker, so the ratio is different - more solidly cruncy, but even more creaminess inside. Wrapped around a single shrimp, dotted with scallions and dried, ground shrimp and served with various herbs and intended to be doused with nuoc mam - the fish sauce. This may mark the only time I've ever fought with my dad over the last of anything.
My mother noted afterwards that, in her 25 years in America, this was the first time that she'd had food that was as good as a normally good restaurant in Saigon.
Brodard's - i can't remember the address, but it's on the southwest corner of Westminster and Brookhurst, I think, behind a 99 cent store. And I mean behind - you'll think there's nothing there but empty lot, but keep going all the way around the 99 cent store.
If anybody has any other Little Saigon reccs, please tell.