The Astronomer’s 27th birthday was celebrated over Vietnamese food and lots of it. There was grilled pork a plenty at home and satisfying noodle soups in San Gabriel.
Jonathan Gold’s review of Nha Trang brought us to this itty-bitty shop off of Valley Boulevard. In his write up, Mr. Gold warned that a long wait was to be expected and that the kitchen might run out of the more popular dishes. The gods of good eating must have been smiling down on us this afternoon because we were seated after a few short minutes and everything on the menu was still available. Woo hoo!
One of my pet peeves with Vietnamese restaurants in America is that their menus are typically overwhelming, advertising everything from broken rice to bánh mì. Nha Trang’s menu was refreshingly edited, serving only eight dishes. Granted, the offerings were still all over the place in terms of regions, but the effort to pare down the menu was noted and appreciated.
After placing our orders, a sizable plate of herbs, beansprouts, chilies, and limes was brought to the table.
For the birthday boy, a huge bowl of bún bò Huế ($5.95). Mingling with the thin and slippery noodles were a fist-sized pork trotter, cubes of huyết, and slices of pleasantly gristly beef. The Astronomer passed all but the latter over to me because he can be a little timid when it comes to pig skin and congealed blood.
While the broth wasn’t heady or vibrant enough for my taste, The Astronomer found it to be one of the best bowls of bún bò he’s sampled this side of the Pacific.
I ordered a bowl of mì Quảng Nha Trang ($5.95). Unlike the mì Quảng found in Quảng Nam and Đà Nẵng, this version from neighboring Nha Trang was quite soupy. The well-balanced broth was totally to my liking, so I didn’t mind the extra ladle-fulls one bit.
Also included in the mix was a welcomed pork trotter, bright yellow noodles, slices of pork loaf, and skin-on shrimp. Sadly, there were no crunchy sesame crackers to be dunked. While this version of mì Quảng was different than what I expected, I loved its flavors, textures, and colors. It was a solid bowl of noodle soup.
Whereas some cultures frown upon diners raising bowls to their mouths to scrape and slurp every last bit, this isn’t the case in Vietnamese culture. The Astronomer and I made sure not to leave a single noodle or drop of broth behind—a signal that complete enjoyment was had.
311 East Valley Boulevard, Ste. 103
San Gabriel, CA 91776