Friday night called for something warm and comforting for dinner. It’s been one of the mildest winters in recent memory, but temps hovered in the fifties this evening and storms were rolling in from points north. After assessing the possibilities in and around the neighborhood, The Astronomer and I decided that a short drive to Alhambra for Vietnamese beef noodle soup was the order of the day.
Noodle Guy, not to be confused with Noodle King two doors down or Noodle Boy in nearby Rosemead, serves Vietnam’s greatest hits. From broken rice to spring rolls, there’s enough variety here to fill a thick, spiral-bound booklet. However, glancing around the dining room, it seemed that most everyone was burying their faces into a big bowl of pho.
Taking a cue from my fellow Noodle Guy-goers, I ordered a bowl of pho bo dac biet. Beneath the heap of chopped cilantro and sliced onions was a bed of rice noodles and a delectable collection of meaty odds and ends including flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe.
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Tucked between a mattress store and a Jenny Craig weight loss outlet is Saigon Noodle House, arguably the best Vietnamese restaurant in the Birmingham metropolitan area. At one point there were three Vietnamese restaurants in town, but Phở Hoàng threw in the towel sometime last year, so these days it’s just Saigon Noodle House and Phở Quê Hương meeting the needs of Birmingham’s Vietnamese food seekers.
I’ve always been a little curious about how Vietnamese food is translated down south, but with so many mouthwatering barbecue shacks to explore, not to mention Frank Stitt’s various haute little eateries, seeking out a cuisine readily available in California was low on my list of priorities.
During our most recent trip to Birmingham, The Astronomer made a lunch date with his high school friends at Saigon Noodle House. I tried to persuade my dear husband to reconsider, but everyone was in the noodling mood, so off to the Noodle House we went.
To start, our group ordered a variety of fresh and fried rolls. The fresh ones were served with hoisin sauce topped with crushed peanuts, while the fried ones were served with a goopy nước chấm.
I liked how both the nem nướng and gỏi cuốn tasted freshly made and contained fried shards of Chinese egg roll wrappers through the center, a la Brodard. My only wish was that the rolls had less iceberg filler and more fresh herbs.
According to The Astronomer, the fried chả giò (not pictured) were “a typical unspectacular American specimen.” Truth be told though, we’ve only had one really outstanding chả giò stateside, and that was at a Cambodian restaurant in Boston.
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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.
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Even though I was warned by the Twitterverse of hour-long lines and have experienced firsthand the utter chaos of large-scale food events (See: Grilled Cheese Invitational and Great American Food and Music Fest), missing out on the first annual LA Street Food Fest was completely out of the question—I live for meals on wheels!
I am not alone in my passion for street eats. Fifteen-thousand Angelenos descended upon LA Center Studios in downtown this past Saturday to stuff their pie holes with Brazilian acaraje, Japanese hot dogs, Mexican huarache, and so much more. The thirty-five trucks at the festival were armed and mostly ready to feed the masses. Even though lines seemed to snake on forever, nearly all of the vendors managed to bring enough food to last the entire day. Those who endured the lengthy waits were rewarded for their efforts.
Hands-down the most popular truck of the day was Chef Ludo Lefebvre‘s pop-up fried chicken mobile. In true Ludo Bites fashion, Krissy ran the front of the “house,” while Ludo and his brigade churned out fresh bites in the back. Hungry folks hankering for a piece of LFC waited upwards of two hours for a taste.
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