Archive for the 'Mon An Chay' Category

Hà Tiên Quán – San Gabriel

Ha Tien Quan - San Gabriel

Dining at a single restaurant on five different occassions in the span of two months has got to be some sort of record for me. While this type of behavior is generally considered quite normal, it’s really very notable in my world because food blogging tends to discourage restaurant monogamy—there’s always something newer, more exciting, or tastier just around the corner.

Ha Tien Quan - San Gabriel

Hà Tiên Quán in San Gabriel has reeled in my promiscuous dining ways with its tremendous Vietnamese cooking. The restaurant’s lineup of regional noodle soups never fails to warm and satisfy, while the vegetarian fare packs a wallop of flavor.

With nearly every Vietnamese restaurant in town serving up the usual pho, vermicelli rice noodles, and and banh mi, it’s been a breath of fresh air diving head first into Hà Tiên’s anything-but-predictable menu. Best of all, I’m constantly tasting new dishes that I didn’t grow up with or encounter while living in Vietnam. This place is my edible playground.

Ha Tien Quan - San Gabriel

The family behind the restaurant is comprised of Larry Ta, his wife Thu Trang, and their daughter Carolyn. Thu heads up the kitchen, while Carolyn and Larry greet, seat, and tend to customers. Both Larry and Thu are from Ha Tien, a city on the western end of the Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border. Hà Tiên Quán opened its doors last October.

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District 4, Saigon: Our Home Away From Home

Xoi Vendor - District 4 - Ho Chi Minh City

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.

Bo La Lot

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.

Bun Bo La Lot

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.

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Good Girl Dinette – Los Angeles (Highland Park)

GOOD GIRL DINETTE SIGNAGE

As a Vietnamese gal who grew up eating her grandmother’s cooking, knows her way around the Vietnamese kitchen, and even called the motherland home for a year, I could easily dismiss Vietnamese fusion efforts as watered-down versions of the real deal, but truth be told, I’m a big fan. My tremendous love for the culinary traditions of Vietnam extends beyond foggy notions of authenticity. The fact that Vietnamese cuisine is extending its reach outside ethnic enclaves and is evolving in a fresh and meaningful way excites me like you wouldn’t believe.

GOOD GIRL DINETTE INTERIOR

Once limited to the confines of Chinatown and the San Gabriel Valley, Vietnamese restaurants have recently gained traction in unlikely sections of Los Angeles. The opening of 9021Pho in Beverly Hills a few weeks back inspired me to begin exploring and documenting Los Angeles’ nouveau Vietnamese food movement. While these new establishments are mostly intended for those less familiar with the cuisine, I was curious to experience a new take on the traditional tastes I grew up with.

First stop, Good Girl Dinette.

GOOD GIRL DINETTE INTERIOR

Located in Highland Park, Good Girl Dinette bills itself as “American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food.” The good girl behind this stylish restaurant is Diep Tran, the former co-owner and chef of Blue Hen. Ms. Tran’s family owns the chain of Pho 79 restaurants in Orange County and Alhambra. Clearly, being a restaurateur is in her blood.

With its exposed brick walls, barely finished tables, and plush mustard yellow chairs, the vibe at Good Girl Dinette is urban and cool. The short menu, which does not contain a lick of Vietnamese, features stews, pot pies, sandwiches, noodles, and soups. All dishes are made using local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. Beat that, Golden Deli.

CHA GIO CHAY / MUSHROOM IMPERIAL ROLLS

The Astronomer and I visited the restaurant on a recent Friday night. Even though our waitress warned us that we were ordering far too much food, we still went ahead with three appetizers to start.

First up were the mushroom imperial rolls, also known as cha gio chay ($5.50). Filled with woodear mushrooms, carrots, and glass noodles, the cha gio arrived glistening and hot. The blistered wrappers signaled that Ms. Tran knew when to leave perfection alone. The cha gio were served with large leaves of romaine lettuce, pickled carrots and daikon, and a soy dipping sauce (nuoc tuong). While the flavors were all spot-on, the cha gio could have used more filling because they collapsed a bit with each bite.

RICE CAKES WITH CRISPY SCALLION TOFU

Next, an order of rice cakes with crispy scallion tofu ($4.50) arrived. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I placed the order since the term “rice cakes” doesn’t translate into anything specific in Vietnamese cuisine. However, the dish that arrived was totally familiar. The little slabs of deep fried tofu were smothered in a mixture of scallions, oil, and fish sauce, all plopped upon a sticky raft of rice. This dish is one of my mom’s quick and easy dinner solutions, minus the rice cakes.

SPICY FRIES

The final appetizer was a small order of spicy fries ($3). The shoestring russets were seasoned with chopped chilies, garlic, and cilantro. The fries reeked of garlicky goodness, even though the trio of aromatics had difficulty adhering to them. The spice factor made these spuds quite addicting.

BO KHO / BEEF STEW

Our first entree was a beef stew, also known as bo kho ($9.50). The stew was served with white rice and seasonal greens (brown rice was available for an additional dollar). The bo kho was brimming with braised carrots and tender hunks of beef, all bathed in a fragrant five spice-laced broth. While I enjoyed the stew immensely, it could’ve been slightly less salty.

GAI LAN / CHINESE BROCOLLI

The bo kho was served with a side of sauteed Chinese broccoli (gai lan).

CHAYOTE POT PIE

The final savory course was the curry chayote pot pie ($10). The hearty homemade biscuit was simply perfect and paired extraordinarily well with the classic Vietnamese curry. Easily the evening’s strongest dish.

ALMOND JELLY

For dessert, The Astronomer and I shared an almond jelly topped with with seasonal citrus syrup ($5), which came highly recommended from our busser. After indulging in some heavy duty comfort foods, the cool and light jelly was just what our palates desired.

Good Girl Dinette
110 North Avenue 56
Los Angeles, CA 90042
Phone: 323-257-8980

Saigon's Bakery & Sandwiches – San Gabriel / San Jose

The banh mi from Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches are so delicious that weathered street gentlemen wake up from their pavement slumbers to come for lunch. This silly thought crossed my mind as I walked into the Vietnamese deli and saw the scruffiest man waiting in line for a sandwich. His straight-outta-Saigon get-up signaled that this place was gonna be good.

The Astronomer and I recently stopped into Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches to pick up some grub for our road trip up to The Bay. Danny of Kung Food Panda recommended it to us—it’s his go-to place for fulfilling unruly banh mi cravings. Vehicular banh mi consumption is a messy affair, but dealing with a few stray crumbs is a small sacrifice for enjoying the most satisfying of sandwiches.

We picked up three sandwiches for the road, from left to right, banh mi bi (pork skin), banh mi thit nuong (grilled pork), and banh mi dac biet (cold cuts galore). Each sandwich was priced at $2.25.

Thus far in my quest for stellar banh mi in the San Gabriel Valley, I’ve been disappointed by the baguettes. Unlike the airy fairy, rice floured specimens in Vietnam, the ones I encountered at Ba Le French Sandwich & Bakery, Bánh Mì & Chè Cali, and Bánh Mì Mỹ Tho were super-sized and thick.

I was pleased like you wouldn’t believe when I bit into Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches’ baguette. It provided excellent support, a pleasant crisp, and not too much fluff as to overwhelm the fixins. I appreciated how the baguette was substantial without being heavy. Bravo!

Of the trio of banh mi, The Astronomer and I adored the bi the most. The stringy bits of pork skin were well-seasoned and melded terrifically with the bread and pickled vegetables.

On our way out the door, the woman behind the counter gifted The Astronomer and me a long and lean baguette. Perhaps there was a “buy three sandwiches, get one baguette free” deal that we were unaware of. Or maybe the woman was just being nice.

A few days later, before loading up our car and departing for Los Angeles, we asked my aunt and uncle whom we were staying with in Redwood City for the name of a good place to grab banh mi for the road. “Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches,” they responded. Fancy that! It turns out that Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches is a chain four locations strong. There are two outlets in Little Saigon, in addition to the ones in San Gabriel and San Jose.

The prices in San Jose were 25 cents higher than at the San Gabriel branch, but fortunately, the bread and fixins were identical. This time around, we ordered another bi because it was our favorite, a xiu mai (meatballs), and a bi chay (vegetarian bi). All three were great.

I also picked up a wonderful snack called bánh dày kẹp chả, which was comprised of a thick slice of fried pork forcemeat sandwiched between two intensely sticky tapioca cakes. The cakes are so gooey and thick that choking is a real possibility, so do be careful.

With good tunes and even better eats, we were home in L.A. in no time.

Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches
718 East Valley Boulevard
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Phone: 626-288-6475

Saigon's Bakery and Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Saigon's Bakery & Sandwiches in Los Angeles

Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches
953 Mclaughlin Avenue
San Jose, CA 95122
Phone: 408-271-9744

Saigon's Bakery on Urbanspoon

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