Archive for the 'Banh Canh' Category

Brodard Restaurant – Garden Grove

Brodard Restaurant - Garden Grove

Sometimes, when the stars are aligned just right, The Astronomer and I manage to pull off dinner in Little Saigon. We’ve attempted to dine here on our drive back from San Diego numerous times, but due to fatigue, traffic, or a combination of both, we’ve only done so successfully twice.  [We ate at Vien Dong Restaurant on our first visit together.]

While Los Angeles’ Vietnamese restaurants have somewhat lost their luster for me, Little Saigon’s novelty is still intact. On our second trip to the motherland (V 2.0), we dropped into Brodard Restaurant in Garden Grove.

Brodard Restaurant - Garden Grove

Brodard was unbelievably bumpin’ this Sunday night. Every seat in the house was occupied, while the wait list seemed to go on and on. Not to mention that the take-out counter was doing some brisk business. After waiting for thirty minutes, The Astronomer and I scored a table fit for four. It was finally time to taste Brodard’s famous nem nuong cuon.

Brodard Restaurant - Garden Grove

Brodard’s decor strikes a balance between modern and cheesy, like only a Vietnamese-American restaurant can. I liked the modern furnishings and clean lines, but couldn’t embrace the mural of stallions galloping along the shore.

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Chinese Kitchen/Chi Tu Thanh Nha Hang – San Diego


If your family is anything like mine, then you’ve probably been dining in the same handful of restaurants for several decades. For as long as I can remember, Pho Hoa has been our go-to joint for Vietnamese beef noodle soup, Minh Ky has been our standby Chinese noodle spot, Lee’s Garden has been our celebratory banquet destination, and so on. We are creatures of habit when it comes to eating outside the home.

While driving to Minh Ky for breakfast one Sunday morning, my mother casually mentioned a hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant that she had recently noticed and had been curious to try. “They make bun mang vit,” my mom said excitedly. “It’s my favorite.”

Even though the yet-to-be-tested restaurant specialized in my mother’s favorite dish, the comfort of dining in a familiar eatery still appealed to her more. In order to encourage my mama to branch out, I had to strike a deal. If the meal at the new place was terrible, I’d volunteer to foot the bill. However, if the food turned out to be terrific, she’d take The Astronomer and me out. With nothing to lose, my mom agreed to breakfast at Chinese Kitchen/Chi Tu Thanh Nha Hang.


The Vietnamese-run restaurant is actually two establishments in one. Chinese Kitchen churns out classic Chinese-American fare like chop suey, chow mein, and egg foo young, while Chi Tu Thanh Nha Hang specializes in Vietnamese noodle soups and porridge. By the way, Chi Tu Thanh is the name of the restaurant’s proprietress and nha hang is the Vietnamese word for “fancy” restaurant.

Chi Tu Thanh Nha Hang also doubles up as a catering service. Throughout our meal, dozens of people came by to pick up trays of freshly fried cha gio and steaming pots of soup to bring home to eat.


The Astronomer, my mom, and I stuck to the Vietnamese menu during our visit. I ordered a bowl of banh canh tom cua ($5), a soup comprised of udon-like noodles in a sweet pork broth with shrimp, crab, and a fish cake. I used to loathe banh canh as a child because the noodles were too slippery and gelatinous, but now that my chopstick skills have improved markedly, it’s become one of my favorite noodle soups. Chi Tu Thanh’s version was quite nice, with its clear yet porky broth and generous amount of noodles. I would’ve liked a pork trotter to gnaw on, as well as more bits of crab.


My mom was mostly pleased with her bun mang vit ($5), vermicelli noodles in a duck-based broth with bamboo shoots and congealed pig’s blood. The noodle soup’s flavors were completely satisfying, but my mother felt the kitchen was a bit skimpy with the meaty bamboo shoots.


The Astronomer ordered a bowl of chao vit ($3.95), duck porridge. Topped with black pepper, scallions, and minced ginger, the porridge was seasoned deftly and comforting in a way that only porridge can be.


The chao vit was served with tender slices of boiled duck and nuoc mam gung (ginger fish sauce). The portion pictured here includes an additional order of duck for the goi vit (duck salad).


In addition to the slices of boiled duck, the goi vit ($5) included a crisp heap of lightly dressed cabbage and banana blossom.

My mom had such a positive experience at Chi Tu Thanh that she’ll be ordering a big ‘ol pot of bun mam this holiday season for us to dig into at home. Oh, how I’ve missed that wildly flavorful soup!

Chinese Kitchen/Chi Tu Thanh Nha Hang Food To Go
6160 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92115
Phone: 619-286-8778

Chinese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Her noodles brings all the boys to the yard…


I’ve been enamored with the Lunch Lady‘s noodles ever since I started my gig at AsiaLIFE. Unless I have commitments beyond my control, this joint near 23 Hoang Sa in District 1 is my go-to place for afternoon refueling.

After frequenting her stall everyday for the past month, The Astronomer and I have figured out that bun bo is always sold on Fridays. Monday through Thursday are still a bit of a mystery, but more often than not it’s delicious. Regardless of what’s on offer, her standard rate is 12,000 VND per bowl.

I usually avoid slurping up broths in noodle dishes because they tend to be too oily. However, I throw caution to the wind when dining here because her broths are chug-worthy.

Bun Bo: According to The Astronomer, the lunch lady’s best dish is bun bo. I’m still up in the air about which one I love most, but her bun bo definitely ranks high. The broth has a deep lemongrass flavor and just a hint of spiciness, and there’s always a generous amount of tender meat. By the way, the lunch lady’s secret to avoiding gristly meat is pineapple. She adds a whole one to the broth, which tenderizes the meat and imparts a bit of sweetness to the broth.


Hu Tieu Nam Vang: Andrea Nguyen at Viet World Kitchen says that hu tieu nam vang is a “Cambodian-Chinese concoction that the Vietnamese ‘borrowed’ and then made their own. Nam Vang is the Viet word for Phnom Penh, and the southern part of Vietnam has deep Khmer roots.”

Hu tieu nam vang is The Astronomer’s least favorite because it contains too many odds and ends (i.e. quail eggs, innards, liver). I, on the other hand, really love the sweet porky broth and find offal awfully tasty. I always request mi (egg noodles) rather than hu tieu (opaque rice noodles) with this dish because I like the taste and texture much better.


Bun Thai: The broth tastes just like tom yum goong soup and has a spicy kick that hits the back of my throat. Thick rice noodles, squid, fried fish cakes and a single shrimp round out the dish nicely. This little number is my colleague Fiona’s favorite.


Bun Rieu Chay: On the first and fifteenth of the Lunar calendar, the lunch lady prepares vegetarian noodles. Her bun rieu chay is so believable that The Astronomer and I didn’t even know it was vegetarian until we asked. Tofu and bean curd make fine substitutions for snails and crab.


Banh Canh: Mmm, banh canh. I never fully appreciated these chewy tapioca noodles until recently. When I was a kid, I just thought they were a bitch to eat because they were so gosh darn slippery. The lunch lady makes at least two types of banh canh—a simple one in a pork broth and this one which contains all sorts of fish cakes, fried shallots and a quail egg. I love how she puts quail eggs in everything!


Mi Ga Tiem: This dish is traditionally made with duck, but the lunch lady uses chicken because it’s less fatty. However, from looking at the broth, I’d say the chicken isn’t cutting that many calories. The chicken version is pretty darn good, but I always prefer duck over chicken. The pickled green papaya served on the side is really good, but the best part is the sweet star anise broth.


Bun Mam: I’m not quite sure what’s exactly in bun mam, but I really really like it. The broth is deeply flavorful and doesn’t really taste like mam (fermented shrimp paste). The soup comes with pineapple, eggplant, barbecued pork (thit heo quay), shrimp, okra, chives and thick rice noodles.

My lunch lady is incredible!

See also: Lunch Lady, Meet the Lunch Lady, and Life After Bourdain: Reuniting with the Lunch Lady.

Lunch Lady


Practically every vendor in town sells the same dish each day. This type of specialization usually results in a dependably consistent product. However, I recently found a lunch lady outside my office at 23 Hoang Sa Street in District 1 that changes up her menu daily without sacrificing quality. Score!

Goi cuon (spring rolls) with hoisin sauce are an everyday staple, but it’s always a surprise which broth and noodle dish she’ll be serving up. Here’s what The Astronomer and I ate on our first visit under her tasty awning.

Goi Cuon (2,000 VND per roll)

Bun Moc – vermicelli rice noodles in a mild pork-based broth with slices of pork and various forcemeats (12,000 VND)

Banh Canh – noodles made of rice and tapioca flour in a mild pork-based broth with slices of pork and various forcemeats (12,000 VND)

Che Thap Cam – dessert drink with seaweed, basil seeds, grass jelly and mung beans (5,000 VND)

The spring rolls were solid, much better than your average street stall rendition. The hoisin sauce, which can either make or break goi cuon, was also very good.

Both main dishes employed the same broth with different noodles. The Astronomer requested bun, while I went for slippery banh canh. During The Astronomer’s “I’m going to eat a new dish each night” phase when I worked at the Saigon Times, he tried bun moc and found it bland. Luckily, this version was anything but boring. The broth was deeply porky and deftly salted. A varied collection of meats and the deep-fried shallots rounded out the dish.

This was my first time having banh canh with a broth made of something other than crab, and I liked it quite a bit. The noodles, which can sometimes be slimy, had a lovely bite like Japanese udon.

I finished off lunch with a tall plastic cup of che. I love the texture of basil seeds between my molars.

Having a standout lunch option five paces from my office is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s good because I have a dependable source of fuel, but it’s not so good because I don’t bother exploring new eateries. I’m sure I’ll find a suitable balance for the sake of gas•tron•o•my.

This lunch lady rules.

See also: Meet the Lunch Lady, Her Noodles Bring All the Boys to the Yard, Life After Bourdain: Reuniting with the Lunch Lady.

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