The Astronomer and I began our third day in Saigon across the river in District 4, a densely packed island we called home for the better part of a year. In the three years since we’ve been gone, the old neighborhood has undergone quite a makeover. While the river is still as murky as ever, dirt roads have been transformed into sturdy bridges and run-down shacks have given way to shiny highrises. The lay of the land was so unfamiliar that The Astronomer had trouble navigating the streets at several turns. Rapid development can be mighty disorienting.
Fortunately, the vibrant street food scene hasn’t changed one bit. After stopping to pick up some xoi gac from my my favorite sticky rice vendor on Ton That Thuyet Street (pictured above), we searched the district for more good eats.
The smell of grilled seasoned beef wrapped in betel leaves brought our motorbike to a rapid halt. Even though we had just eaten bo la lot a few meals ago, it was too tempting to pass up.
The Astronomer’s bowl of bun bo la lot was piled high with herbs and sprouts tucked underneath a tangle of cool vermicelli noodles, peanuts, pickled carrots and daikon, and a swipe of crushed fresh chilies. Everything was evenly dressed with fish sauce. The best bites included a pinky-sized bo la lot nugget.
Continue reading ‘District 4, Saigon: Our Home Away From Home’
The Astronomer and I dined at Ngự Bình Restaurant earlier this summer while in Little Saigon for a very special wedding. With three hours to fill in between the ceremony and reception, we decided to stuff ourselves silly with Vietnamese food.
Little Saigon is slightly too far for us to explore on the regular, so we had to seize this opportunity to dine on the best Vietnamese food this side of the Pacific.
In the midst of all the wedding chaos, the bride and groom were kind enough to point us to Ngự Bình for Central Vietnamese cuisine. Here, chef and owner Mai Tran prepares family recipes that she learned in her hometown of Thua Thien. The delicate steamed dumplings and complex noodle soups that hail from this region never fail to make me swoon.
The first dish to land on our table was the mit xuc banh trang ($6.25). The young jackfruit salad was served warm with a smattering of Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), slivers of pork, and crushed peanuts. We scooped up the salad using the crisp sesame crackers and delivered the goods swiftly to our mouths. A bit of fish sauce was all that was needed to set the flavors properly ablaze.
Continue reading ‘Ngự Bình Restaurant – Westminster’
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 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’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.
Continue reading ‘Brodard Restaurant – Garden Grove’
When The Astronomer and I go out for Vietnamese food, it’s almost always bun (rice noodles) or com tam (broken rice) that graces our table. Slightly tired of our standbys, on the past few occasions we’ve ordered com gia dinh instead. Com gia dinh is a set menu comprised of traditional dishes that Vietnamese families eat for lunch and dinner. It’s the kind of cuisine that I grew up on and find myself craving from time to time. The menu usually includes a braised meat, a soup (canh), a vegetable, and lots of steamed Jasmine rice. A restaurant’s version of com dia dinh is rarely as good as the real thing, but it’ll do when a sudden craving hits and grandma’s house is a hundred miles away.
The Astronomer ate at Phở Nguyễn Hoàng in San Gabriel a few months back with a group of friends and found it solid enough to bring me in for a taste. We arrived at the restaurant on the later side of dinner and found the place still humming on a Saturday night. After perusing the com dia dinh offerings (located in the very back of the menu), we chose the four-course ($18) dinner for two. The three-course ($14) menu would’ve provided more than enough food for us, but we desired leftovers for the following day.
The first course was goi tom thit, a simply dressed salad with shrimp, beef, cabbage, onions, herbs, and crushed peanuts. The ingredients were very fresh, but the dressing was too mild and too lightly applied to penetrate through the mass of greenery. If it had been given adequate time to soak, mingle, and settle, the goi would’ve been much tastier.
Continue reading ‘Phở Nguyễn Hoàng – San Gabriel’