I’ve been thinking a lot about Pok Pok’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings since my trip to Portland last fall. The perfect marriage of crispy chicken and potent nuoc mam, these unforgettable wings left my fingers sticky, my lips lacquered, and my stomach craving more.
Since jetting off to The Beaver State whenever a hankering hits isn’t very practical, I am on a mission to find a local source for similarly delectable wings. First stop: Cafe Artist in Orange County. This spot came recommended to me by Anh, a Gastronomy reader.
Located in the same Little Saigon strip mall as Vien Dong restaurant, Cafe Artist is one of the most popular quan nhau (watering holes) in the neighborhood. The place opens at 1:30 PM and stays bumpin’ till late.
The Astronomer and I, along with my friend Anne, came in for lunch and snagged a table on the patio. I’d heard that it gets loud and smokey once the regular crowd files in, so I was quite pleased that we had the place to ourselves at this hour.
We ordered five dishes between the three of us and managed to finish them all. First up was a hefty platter of oc len xao dua ($11.99),
cockles sea snails simmered in an irresistible lemongrass, red curry, and coconut broth.
As instructed by our waitress, we sucked with all our might to release the cockles from their shells. Mmm! Bowls of steamed rice were requested to make good use of the fabulous broth.
Also terrific was the xoi chien lap xuong ($9.95), a raft of crispy-fried sticky rice topped with scallion oil, Chinese sausage, and plenty of pork floss. Spicy soy sauce was served on the side. Anne declared this one her favorite.
The Astronomer and I had high hopes for the cua lot rang me ($14.99), tamarind soft shell crab, but alas, it didn’t quite hit the mark. While the flavor was swell enough, it was hard to make out the delicate soft shells amid the too-thick and too-crunchy batter. A shame. The Crab Shack calls…
The so long nuong ($13.99), grilled bloody clams slathered with scallion oil and toasted peanuts, transported The Astronomer and me right back to the street-side seafood joints we used to frequent in Saigon.
The final dish on the scene was the canh ga chien nuoc mam ($11.99), chicken wings and drumettes tossed in a balanced blend of fish sauce, sugar, chili flakes, and sliced white onions. While the caramelized wings were a complete delight to eat, the flavors were tamer than Pok Pok’s funkier beast.
It’s been a while since I’ve had my fill of Vietnamese pub grub, and our midday meal at Cafe Artist totally scratched that itch! Next stop: Quan Gio.
Where else should I get my fish sauce wangs on?
14281 Brookhurst Street
Garden Grove, CA 92843
One year ago: Mile End Sandwich – New York City
Two years ago: Hungry Cat – Los Angeles (Hollywood)
Three years ago: Mori Sushi – Los Angeles
Four years ago: Amaro Bar at Osteria Mozza – Los Angeles
Five years ago: Bake-Sale Brownies
Six years ago: The Art of Making Bánh Chưng
Seven years ago: Naked Chocolate Cafe – Philadelphia