So I've been home from NY a couple times in the last few months and I've been meaning to write this up for a while, but I've been busy, so I'm just getting around to it now. I forgot my camera again, so I only have one pic from my blackberry. I also went to some korean places that are awesome, but since these posts about Little Saigon are about vietnamese food I decided to write a separate posts about them here:
Here's where I ate:
Com Tam Thuan Kieu: I love com tam and I decided to try a different com tam place than my go to spot Com Tam Tran Quy Cap (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/582941). Com Tam Thuan Kieu is truly a hole in the wall in a small crappy strip mall, Com Tam Tran Quy Cap is much nicer than this place. It was pretty dirty and ghetto although I don't really care about that if the food is good. Besides com tom they seem to specialize in Nem Nuong Cuon, which is this spring roll with grilled pork patties in it (has a steamed rice wrapper around it) as they had a big sign advertising it. I got the combo B, which was $9 and huge (literally i ate half, took the other half home and it barely fit in one of those big white square styrofoam containers). Combo B had a pork chop, cha gio (fried spring roll), pork skin, that big egg quiche thing, nem nuong (grilled pork patty), fish cake, a shrimp cake wrapped in fried tofu skin, pickled daikon / carrot strips and diced scallions. The com tam itself was excellent, it was as good as Com Tam Tran Quy Cap. The toppings were good although I didn't think they were as good as Com Tam Tran Quy Cap. The pork chop was a little gristley although the meat you could get at was tender and had good flavor, the shrimp cake was nowhere near as good as the Com Tam Tran Quy Cap although still very tasty, the other stuff was pretty standard meaning it was good although i did think their nem nuong was another standout. Overall, its a very good place although Com Tam Tran Quy Cap is better. I would like to come back specifically to try their nem nuong cuon b/c their nem nuong itself was pretty good
Xanh: a while ago DasUbergeek recommended this place (thanks btw!). It's much different than most places in little saigon. It looks like a semi-modern more upscale cafe. It's got alot of exposed concrete, various pics on the fall, very clean looking. I believe most of the waiters were born here (no accents) although I believe they are still vietnamese. Normally, as far as asian food goes when I see anything that is fusion-y I immediately have a huge amount of skepticism as I've found that 9.5 out of 10 times they hugely disappoint me and i find food that i think it watered down to cater to americans that i find pale to the original dishes (btw nothing wrong if you like this, taste is purely matter of opinion). Even though it was recommended by credible chowhounds, I still came in here thinking that. Well luckily, Xanh is the 0.5 out of 10 times where I found something I thought was excellent. I'll get straight to the food, here's what we got:
- Cơm cháy thịt nướng (Crispy rice & grilled pork): wow, this dish was awesome. Its this crispy rice (think like the bits of the rice on the outside of a grilled onigiri rice ball), so its not totally just crispy, there are some semi soft parts as well, topped with this excellent grill pork. The pork is semi sweet and tastes exactly like lop chong / la chang (chinese sausage). They've got an excellent chili paste (tastes like it has alot of garlic in it) and combined with the nuoc mam (a sweet viet fish sauce) it tasted unbelievable. I loved the texture as well. This was awesome.
- cha gio (fried viet spring rolls): These were nice and light, pretty long for cha gio with a smooth exterior, which is different than the bubbly wrapper most places have. They actually tasted pretty standard, very similar to the ones of at Pho Thanh Lich. Overall, these were good.
- Gỏi xoài đu đu xanh (Green papaya & mango salad with shrimp): another good dish. Pretty standard with thinly sliced green papaya and mango, pickled carrot, peanuts and a couple of other condiments tossed in lime type sauce. I love these dishes and this was no exception. They always taste so cool and refreshing with a little bit of spiciness. Another winner
- Bò lúc lắc (Sautéed lemongrass beef cubes): this was very interesting, very different than most bo luc lac, which is usually covered in a black bean sauce. This version wasn't really in any sauce, they were standalone and you could really taste the beef more than anything else. They had a great charred flavor, were very tender and just had a good clean taste to them. It's a simple dish and I felt like it was a completely different dish than most bo luc lac. Very good.
- Cá kho tộ (White fish in house black pepper reduction): Wow, this along with the crispy rice was my other favorite dish. It comes out sizzling in a small skillet with a top on it. It's small fillets of a white fish in these sweet carmelized black pepper reduction. It was sweet but not overly sweet with a great carmelized flavor and you could taste the black pepper as well. The fish was super tender and not fishy at all. I loved this dish.
This is one of the better restaurants I've been to in orange county in a really long time and I respect that they were actually able to pull off some fusion food. I really recommend trying this place out, its really good.
China Chef Mi Lay Cay: I'm a big fan of alot of the chinese places in Little Saigon that are usually southern chinese (cantonese, chao zhou mainly) cooked by chinese people from vietnam, so it's got a viet influence to it. This type of food is super good, a combo of two of my favorite foods in the world. Mi Lay Cay has been on my list for a while as I'd heard it was really good. My gf and I decided to try it out for lunch. It's another non-descript restaurant in a forgettable strip mall, the parking was awful, i ended up having to park a block or so away in a residential area. It was packed and I actually had to wait 10 mins to get a table (always a good sign). The waiters don't speak good english at all, I tried speaking to them in mandarin, but i don't think they really understood me, so i resorted to pointing and using some broke ass cantonese as i know the names of most of the dishes in cantonese. They definitely understand viet and cantonese as I heard people speaking to them in both. There are several branches of this place, but I went to the one on Westminster Blvd. Mi Lay Cay's specialty is mi, which are thin yellow noodle (you'll notice every table has it). They use an oyster sauce which they cook the noodles in (its just lightly coated on it, you can taste it, but its not strong), then put some lettuce and a meat of your choice on it, they serve it with the soup on the side. I got the cha siu / cha shao (roast pork) and my gf got the kao ya (roast duck) version. The mi is awesome, the noodles are perfectly al dente, the light flavor of the oyster sauce is awesome and the soup they give you is awesome, very fragrant and light, not too salty and i don't think there was much or only a little MSG (i only pour a little on to loosen up the noodles and then drink a little soup with each bite)...i loved it, really good. The cha siu (roast pork) had great flavor and looked very different than most cha siu (wasn't red on the outside) and had a more mild flavor, however i thought it was a bit on the dry side. The duck was really good, had great flavor and was salty, but in a good way, went really well with the soup and noodles. Overall, another really tasty place in Little Saigon, definitely recommend.
Pho Thanh Lich
14500 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683
Com Tam Thuan Kieu
120 E Valley Blvd Ste I, San Gabriel, CA 91776
14045 Goldenwest St, Westminster, CA 92683
Mi La Cay
10078 Westminster Ave, Garden Grove, CA 92843