So I went on round 2 of my Little Saigon Adventure. I was actually very excited to eat b/c I got stuck in Newark Airport for an 8 hour delay (ridiculous) and was starving and so I immediately started to think about what I wanted to eat when I finally got home and Viet food sounded pretty damn good after my last trip. I tried to round it out with a few different dishes, so I could get some variety. I ended up hitting Pho Tau Bay (3rd time), Vien Dong (2nd time), Pho Kim My (1st time), Com Tam Tran Qui Cap (1st time) and Ngu Binh (1st time).
So here we go:
Pho Tau Bay (3610 W. 1st St) – I wrote a response about this on my other post, so here you go: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5765...
Bottom line is that stick to the banh cuon and the banh cuon is very consistent and very awesome…love this place, the people now know me b/c they told me I’m one of the only non-viets who come here
Vien Dong (14271 Brookhurst) – I went here once before on a tip from Das Ubergeek and thought it was very good. So I came back for dinner with my mother and grandmother. It’s a reasonably large restaurant by Little Saigon standards and its relatively spacious making it less hectic than the average viet restaurant. Not much décor to speak of, but I’d probably say its one of the nicer and cleaner viet restaurants I’ve been to in the area. That night it happened to be someone’s bday, so there was ballons all over the place. Also, on a funny note, I saw my first viet cowboy haha…there was a short, skinny viet guy in a cowboy outfit, who made a whole little shrine with Christian books and Jesus statues…very interesting.
Anyhow, onto the food:
- Cha Ca Thang Long (sizzling dill and tumeric fish): this is one of the house specialties and it is very good. It comes out on a hot metal skillet and it is fish that has been rubbed in tumeric powder and is covered with dill, raw onions and fried onions. The fish is very tender, not fishy at all and so good. They also give you bun (white rice noodles), sesame crackers, roasted peanuts, assorted vegetables and a fermented shrimp sauce that goes great with the sesame crackers. This was a hit dish and my mom and grandmother loved it
- Bun Cha Hanoi (grilled pork and pork patties with white rice noodles): last time I got this, something was off about the pork. This time it was very good, its grilled pork and pork patties that are in a bowl of nuoc mam (sweet fish sauce), the grilled aspect makes the sauce taste smoky (in a good way) as a lot of crispy black parts come off into the sauce. You eat with some bun (rice noodles) or some lettuce and it is really very good.
- Cha Gio (fried spring rolls): best cha gio I’ve ever had, filling is flavorful and delicious, ratio of meat to wrapper is just right, outside wrapper is crispy and not oily at all. Hit it with some nuoc mam and you’re money
- Banh Tom Co Ngu (tempura style sweet potatoes and shrimp): this was good, fried nicely, not soggy at all (sweet potato can get soggy if u do it wrong), could’ve been a little more generous on the shrimp, but we still liked it
All in this is a great restaurant and I highly recommend going. Also the lady at the register was asking me a lot of questions about what I thought about the food, I’m always happy when restaurants take some pride in their food.
Pho Kim My (listed as Pho Kimmy, 14932 Bushard) – this was another shot at trying to find awesome pho (I tried Pho 79 last time); this place is very small, crowded and hectic. I luckily went at 11:20 right before the crowd started to pile into the place. There is no décor to speak of and they don’t speak English well fyi. So I got the Pho Tai Chin (beef noodle soup with raw beef and cooked tenderloin). The broth was good, it had some of the complexity that I look for in a broth (bones that have been simmered for a long time) as it had the hint of deep beef flavor, it wasn’t nearly as greasy or heavy as the broth at Pho 79 nor did have the very strong star anise flavor that Pho 79 had…that said, it was too salty and had a bit too much MSG in for me; I’m sort of particular about that as I feel a lot of people use salt or MSG to cover up a bad broth. While this certainly wasn’t a bad broth by any means, the salt kind of killed some of the other flavors that you could tell were there. The meat was very good especially the tai (raw beef), it was much better than Pho 79’s tai…great texture and flavor, probably the best part of the bowl. Overall, I thought it was good and I’d probably eat it again, but my search for amazing pho continues
Com Tam Tran Qui Cap (10522 Mcfadden): Com tam (broken rice) is fractured grains of rice (which I believe were discarded back in the day and used by poor peasants), so the grains of rice are very short and have a dryer consistency that is different than most rice that I really like (hard to explain, but you’ll like it). Now I already love com tam (I love roasted meats over rice, I grew up eating Cantonese roasted meats over rice and this is the same vein), but the com tam I had here blew every other place I’ve been to out of the water (WOW!). Last trip Pho Tau Bay was my revelation, this time Com Tam Tran Qui Cap is my revelation! Another small place, no décor, packed at lunch. They don’t speak English well, but the menu is very simple, just different combinations of meats over com tam.
I got #1 with pork meat balls, grilled steak, bi (pork skin), shrimps on a skewer, the omelette thing (forget the name) and this shrimp cake wrapped in fried tofu skin over com tam. Most com tam places bring the food out quickly b/c its been pre-cooked, here it takes a bit longer b/c they cook to order (I always prefer cook to order and this is no exception and its more than worth the wait). The meats are all nice, charred and hot when you get them (exactly how roast meat should taste). All of them are tender and marinated in a sort of thicker, sweet soy based sauce that is delicious (not too salty, sweet or overpowering). The shrimps on the skewer were fresh and tender. The surprise is the shrimp cake in fried tofu skin…the outside is so crispy and not oily at all, its almost like phyllo pastry dough, but lighter and the inside has a great flavor like any great fish / shrimp cake. I thought it was going to be like this Chinese dish, but it was much different (and better). You hit it with some nuoc mam (their nuoc mam is a bit more fishy than most) and it is heaven. Also one plate is massive, my mom and sister shared one (I had one for myself b/c I’m a glutton). Awesome, I suggest you go there right now.
Ngu Binh (14072 Magnolia): another no décor place that is packed. You sign up your name on a board on the outside b/c there is going to be a wait. They speak little / no English and the menu is in viet only (I researched before to figure out what to order before I came), so do your homework before if you’re coming here (assuming you don’t speak viet), luckily the menu is short b/c they are a specialist restaurant. They’re known for a few things Bun Bo Hue (spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup), Mi Quang (tumeric egg noodle soup), Banh Lot (glutinous dried shrimp dumplings), Bahn Beo Chan (rice cake saucer things), Banh Nam (steamed flat rice dumplings with pork and dried shrimp).
It was just my mom and I, so I could order everything:
- Mi Quang: its sort of similar to a lot of Chinese noodle soups except it didn’t have as much soup like only half the bowl was filled with soup. It’s got broader thicker egg noodles that have a very yellow appearance b/c of the tumeric that is in them, its topped with sliced pork, sesame crackers, peanuts, some scallions and a few vegetables. The broth is a somewhat oily / heavier spicy broth. I thought it was good, but wasn’t blown away by it. That said you could tell it was a well executed dish, but I think the dish itself didn’t have any particular flavor that jumped out and made me love it.
- Banh Lot: I wasn’t a huge fan of this, the outside is too glutinous for me although I thought the dried shrimp in the middle was delicious
- Bahn Beo Chan: these were very good, they are rice dough saucers that are covered orange stuff, fried onions and scallions…the dough is sort of similar to Chinese cheung fan, but softer. Anyhow with some nuoc mam it is very good…this was out favorite dish here by far
- Banh Nam: this was interesting, its very soft and the filling is very strong, pretty fishy tasting. I thought it was good, but not great. My mom wasn’t a fan
- Cha Hue: I saw this at the end of the menu and ordered it for no reason, it’s a pork sausage rolled in a banana leaf. It was pretty good, but nothing crazy
Overall, I thought it was good, but not great although I have a feeling it’s more the dishes as opposed to the execution. I feel like the dishes were very well made, but they just weren’t my favorite viet dishes. I’d like to come back here to order the bun bo hue as many of the tables had it and it looked delicious. Also, this place has the best nuoc mam I’ve ever had, it’s the perfect balance between sweet and fish flavor and they stick chopped up chilis in it which gives it more flavor and makes it spicy
So it was another successful trip and Vietnamese food is quickly rising to become one of my favorite types of food (Chinese, Japanese and French are at the top of my list now; korean is right behind them) and this is great that its so close to my mom's house. Look forward to round 3...btw I love that these places all cost nothing for me to try (i have no idea how these places make any money)