Jun 2009

Đông Nguyên Restaurant – Alhambra

As much as I love introducing friends and family to new foods and great restaurants, being shown the ropes by a resident eater is oftentimes even better. Every once in a while, it can be a real treat to just sit back, relax, and let someone else assume the role of Gastronomer.

It’s a red letter meal whenever I dine with gas•tron•o•my reader Sharon. She currently resides in Durham, North Carolina, but grew up in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley. Her extensive knowledge of Chinese and Vietnamese gems up and down Valley Boulevard is impressive and inspiring.

The initial plan for our Wednesday night dinner was to meet up at Sharon’s favorite banh cuon restaurant in Alhambra. Unfortunately, it was closed this evening, so we headed next door to Đông Nguyên, a restaurant Sharon’s family has been frequenting since she was a small fry.

Located in a strip mall with an uncanny resemblance to Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A., Đông Nguyên specializes in Chinese-Vietnamese cuisine. The restaurant’s proprietors hail from Vietnam, Chợ Lớn in District 5 to be exact, but are ethnically Chinese. The majority of the dishes served here are traditionally considered to be Chinese. However, some of the offerings contain distinctly Vietnamese touches, like nuoc mam-based marinades and sauces. This is fusion cuisine at its finest.

All of the wonderful ladies who work at Đông Nguyên can speak Cantonese, Vietnamese, and of course, English. While Sharon spouted her order in Cantonese, The Astronomer and I gave ours in Vietnamese. Sharon and I were both impressed by the lack of language barriers.

Before our entrees arrived, we were each served bowls of Chinese medicinal soup. The mildly warm chicken broth-based soup contained barley, lotus seeds, goji berries, and a number of unknown, but surely virtuous, ingredients.

The Astronomer ordered the house special—com ga Hai Nam, also known as Hainanese chicken rice ($6.50). This dish is prepared by boiling a whole chicken in an aromatic broth, and using the resulting liquid in place of water to make the rice. At Đông Nguyên, both the chicken and the rice are prepared splendidly. The rice is delicate and incredibly fragrant, while the meat is tender and infused with notes of garlic, ginger, and onions.

The absolute best part of chicken rice is the ginger and chili dipping sauce served on the side. Poured liberally over the chicken and rice, it makes the entire dish really come together.

Sharon ordered her go-to rice plate, com suon nuong ($6.50), which came with a little dish of nuoc cham on the side. I had never before seen such a mountainous portion of grilled pork chop slabs. The Astronomer commented that this was most definitely an America-sized portion. The Vietnamese are very skimpy with their meats.

I settled on a bowl of mi vit tiem ($6.75)—Chinese duck noodle soup. The large bowl arrived hot and was brimming with tangled egg noodles and big hunks of duck meat, all in an herbal star anise broth. The mi vit tiem was served with pickled green papaya on the side to balance the duck’s fatty nature. Although the noodles were definitely solid, it didn’t match the awesomness of my Lunch Lady’s rendition in Saigon. What can I say? I’ve been spoiled.

Đông Nguyên Restaurant
1433 East Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91801
Phone: 626-300-8618

Dong Nguyen on Urbanspoon

Dong Nguyen Restaurant in Los Angeles

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10 thoughts on “Đông Nguyên Restaurant – Alhambra

  1. Hey! Don’t make him back off. I want one of those crazy Tony C. dinners where I roll out like the blueberry girl in Willy Wonka.

    I’d like my Tony C. extravaganza in Koreatown, please. And I’ll comment freakishly fast until I get it. You have been warned.

    (I have an RSS feed and I know how to use it. That’s why I comment fast. Also, I’m avoiding book revisions.)

  2. I’m so glad you liked the restaurant. This write-up made me happy and homesick at the same time. I wonder if anyone that isn’t familiar with the area realizes how totally awesome Valley Blvd is…they should cruise it up and down like we did!

  3. I wish I’d read this last week! My friends and I were passing through the SGV on Sunday evening and were looking for a place to stop for a bite. Ended up at Sam Woo (which was good), but this sounds like a winner to do! I could do some serious damage on the pork chops and chicken…

  4. I had some super dissapointing com ga hai nam just last night. You make me jealous.

  5. My family and I have been going to this place for years. Many of my friends prefer Savoy off of Valley and Chapel (thereabouts), but I’ve always liked this place as a good standby for the hai nam rice dish.

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