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’
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.
Continue reading ‘Nha Trang – San Gabriel’
If The Astronomer and I were to combine our culinary heritages, we might come up with dishes like toasted ravioli filled with lemongrass pork and collard greens braised in fish sauce. Sounds intriguing and even a little tempting, wouldn’t you say? This sort of whimsical marrying of cuisines is exactly what the husband and wife team of Jose Sarinana and Thien Ho are doing at Xoia Vietnamese Eats in Echo Park.
Opened last summer, Xoia serves a mostly Vietnamese menu with a handful of inspired dishes that bring together elements from both Vietnamese and Mexican cuisine. The cultures collide most successfully under the “Taco” section of the menu. I really enjoyed the anise and cinnamon spiced phở tacos that I sampled at the restaurant’s soft opening and couldn’t wait to try another mash-up during my subsequent lunchtime visit.
My easygoing dining mate Nastassia was game for just about anything, so I ordered the mì quảng-inspired tacos ($5.75). The three tacos were served on warm corn tortillas with fresh cilantro, diced red onions, and a side of house-made red salsa. The tender pork was richly spiced with paprika and shallots; I added a squiggle of Sriracha for good measure.
The tacos’ flavors were brighter and more robust than a bowl of mì quảng. Concentrating the spices and upping the oomph allowed the protein to work terrifically as a taco filling. Next time, I’m going to sample the chicken curry tacos.
Continue reading ‘Xoia Vietnamese Eats – Los Angeles (Echo Park)’
The Astronomer and I dined at Hoài Huế three years ago on a double date with my grandparents. Back then, the restaurant occupied a sad space that was dark, dingy, and cramped. The food and service were both good, but the ambiance was pretty pathetic, even for a Vietnamese joint.
Recently, Hoài Huế moved into infinitely superior digs a few blocks west on El Cajon Boulevard. On our lastest trip to San Diego, The Astronomer and I lunched in the new space along with my grandparents, mom, and cousin Jimmy.
Even though it had only been open a short while, Hoài Huế was totally packed—good news spreads rapidly in this food-loving community. The new restaurant is brightly lit, clean, spacious, and humming with happy noodle slurpers. We immediately scored a table for four, but had to wait for the one next to it to clear out. By the time the rest of our party arrived, the table was ready to go.
What I really, really liked about Hoài Huế was its concise menu. With fewer than twenty dishes on offer, most of which were from Central Vietnam, it was clear what the restaurant excelled at. Twenty dishes is extensive compared to the one-dish shacks in Vietnam, but a vast improvement from the tomes I’m presented with at most Vietnamese-American restaurants.
Continue reading ‘Hoài Huế Vietnamese Restaurant – San Diego’