I just went to Thien Tam in El Monte for the first time today. It is a Vegan/Vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant. Like most of the other vegetarian restaurants in the area, it has a heavy Buddhist influence.
The menu lists about 30 unique items. The menu has decent English descriptions of the items. Most items are marked as Vegan but there are a few that are not--primarily those with egg noodles. They do not use MSG.
We ordered the following items (apologies for not adding the proper diacritical marks):
1. Mi Xao Thap Cam (Fried Egg Noodles with Vegetables): This was like chow mein. The noodles are soft, not crunchy. It was quite decent.
2. Hoanh Thanh Mi (Egg Noodles in Wonton Soup): This was like wonton noodle soup. Not bad.
3. Hoanh Thanh Mi Hu Tieu (Egg Noodles and thin rice noodles in Wonton Soup): Like #2 but with thin rice noodles. I didn't try this, but it had the same soup base as the previous dish.
4. Com Bi Nem Nuong (Grilled ham strips with rice and shredded tofu): This was tasty, but I wasn't a big fan of the shredded tofu. It's a reasonable impersonation of Nem Nuong.
5. Com Ga Hai Nam (Hainan Chicken with rice): This was an excellent dish. It came with a small bowl of ginger sauce that's great when poured over the chicken and rice. The mock chicken was prepared well. It resembled a chicken thigh in color and texture. This dish might actually fool a omnivore into thinking that it's a meat dish.
6. Com Ga Xao Xa Ot (Chicken in a lemongrass and chili sauce with rice): This was an excellent dish. The combination of the lemongrass and chili was an absolute delight--easily my favorite dish there.
The dishes average about $6.25-$6.50. They don't have much to drink aside from tea and water.
If your non-vegetarian friends would rather not eat there, there is an adequate pho restaurant next door (I don't remember the name). The staff said that you can order the vegetarian/vegan dishes from Thien Tam and ask them to bring it over to the pho restaurants so you can eat with your friends there.
Thien Tan is located in a non-descript strip mall and is easy to miss. The interior decor is garish: deep, maroon walls with white wall tiles coupled with black and white tiles in a checkerboard pattern. You can't miss the Buddhist theme in the restaurant, ranging from the pictures on the walls to the CDs and pamphlets by the door.
This is one of the better vegetarian restaurants I've been to. Overall, it was quite good, especially considering the price. I would definitely recommend this Thien Tam as a good vegetarian restaurant.
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