Went to dinner here tonight with kare_raisu and epicureous eggplant, and came away thinking this is the best Vietnamese food of this style I've had so far in San Diego.
We had four things and the worst of them was excellent, while one (to me, anyway) was transcendent.
We got summer rolls with egg, chili paste and chinese sausage; sauteed catfish; grilled beef with caul fat; and round rice noodle with char-grilled ground pork meatballs and shrimp paste.
First dish out was the sauteed catfish, which came in a stoneware bowl, bubbling vigorously. Here's a photo:
The sauce was a dark brown, made with a caramel sauce. There were a lot of bones, and the fish was incredibly tender and juicy. I'd never had this combination of flavors before, but I liked it a lot.
Next out was the round rice noodle. This was served in a manner really similar to bun, with a bowl of coconut milk in addition to the fish sauce. This was an awesome dish. The texture of the noodles was amazing, and the flavor of the noodles with the charred pork and coconut milk was sublime.
Lastly they brought out the grilled beef and the summer rolls. The summer rolls were delicious, with a really interesting fermented flavor throughout that we speculated might have been rice wine dressing the raw veggies.
But for me the real star of the evening was the grilled beef in caul fat. I've had this a couple of other times, at Convoy Noodle House and Pho Pasteur, but this completely blew those versions away. The beef is ground and seasoned, formed into small finger-like shapes. The caul fat melts during the grilling, leaving the beef very juicy and moist, and generating a lot of smoke that seasons the beef. These were indescribably great. They come with a platter of lettuce leaves, mint sprigs, pineapple, pickled daikon, and cucumbers, as well as softened rice paper for wrapping.
Photo of the beef:
The menu at Saigon is huge, and judging by how good our food was, it's hard to imagine anything being less than good. We asked our server how their pho was, and he described it as "beautiful", going on to explain that based on where pho restaurants are located can give you an indication of how the broth is going to be. We cajoled one of the waiters into bringing us a small bowl of the broth so we could sample it, and it was delicious. I'll definitely be going back to sample the pho here.
Another intriguing thing on their menu that I've seen at Pho Pasteur is fresh crab. I've never once ordered it at Pho Pasteur because the water in the tank is extremely murky. The tanks at Saigon were extremely clean, however, and you could clearly see the crabs. I will be trying these at some point as well.
This is a great spot. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't already been.
4455 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115
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