Jul 2010

Viet Noodle Bar – Los Angeles (Atwater Village)

Viet Noodle Bar - Los Angeles

While I was living in Vietnam, one of the most popular restaurant trends was repackaging traditional street food with Western aesthetics in mind. Dubbed “air-con street food” by the expatriate crowd, these joints served Vietnamese fare in comfortable settings, complete with competent waiters and English language menus. While I didn’t care too much for these sterile eateries, places likeΒ  Pho 24 and Bun Bo Xu were extremely popular with middle-class locals, tourists, and expats.

I thought that I had left air-con street food behind me when I moved to Los Angeles, but the moment I stepped into Viet Noodle Bar in Atwater Village, I was instantly transported back in time. Something about the exposed brick walls, sleek furnishings, and the romantically dated Vespa on display was reminiscent of District 1, Saigon.

Viet Noodle Bar - Los Angeles

Viet Noodle Bar serves a hodgepodge of Vietnamese dishes to a hip and trendy crowd.Β  According to the Los Angeles Times article “Inspired by a World of Ingredients”, the restaurant’s owner, Viet Tran, traveled across North Vietnam for five years and studied noodle-making and soy milk-making in little villages. Viet Soy Cafe in Silverlake and Viet Noodle Bar were inspired by his experiences abroad.

Viet Noodle Bar - Los Angeles

My posse of noodle-goers [Laurie, Diana, and Anjali] and I started with an order of jicama spring rolls, also known as bo bia ($5). Rolled to order, each one was filled with tofu, a jicama and carrot slaw, fried shallots, and a basil leaf. A sweet hoisin dipping sauce was served on the side. Although I generally prefer the non-vegetarian version of this dish, the freshness of the ingredients, especially the powerful punch of the basil, made me forget about the missing Chinese sausages and scrambled eggs.

Viet Noodle Bar - Los Angeles

We also shared a plate of goi mit, young jackfruit salad ($5). In place of the usual pork and shrimp were pieces of fried tofu and shiitake mushrooms. The salad’s constant companion, rice crackers with black sesame seeds (banh trang), was served by its side. I thoroughly enjoyed this meat-less version of goi mit and would like to think that every time I eat mon an chay (vegetarian), a Buddhist monk smiles.

Viet Noodle Bar - Los Angeles

For my main entree, I ordered a bowl of the super-popular tumeric white fish noodles with dill ($8.50). Cha Ca Thang Long is one of my all-time favorite Vietnamese dishes, and the version here was good, but missing a couple key elements. For starters, it was completely void of any deliciously oily sauteed green onions. In Hanoi, a forest of scallions is cooked along with the fish, dill, and spices, soaking up all of the wonderful flavors in the process.

Additionally, my condiment of choice, fermented shrimp paste, was missing in action. I added some fish sauce to moisten and liven up the bowl a bit, but what I really wanted was some of the funky stuff.

Due to a combination of nature and nurture, I’m far pickier about my Vietnamese food than the average bear. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Viet Noodle Bar. However, it would’ve been nice to finish my meal on a sweet note.Β  Don’t they know how much my friends and I adore dessert? We coordinate bake sales, for Pete’s sake.

Viet Noodle Bar
3133 Glendale Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Phone: 323-906-1575

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14 thoughts on “Viet Noodle Bar – Los Angeles (Atwater Village)

  1. Me = average bear, but now you have me wondering what the fish would have tasted like with some funky stuff added on top!

    Maybe I’ll funkify it myself when I work up the courage to try it at home… πŸ™‚

  2. I am sad about not being able to eat cha ca authentically here in Hanoi. Instead we’ve been eating at touristy restaurants. Boo. I hope to have better luck in Danang and Saigon.

  3. This is my local noodle place – we walk to it all the time. Probably eat there on average 1x per week. It’s a good, solid neighborhood place. I agree about the tumeric white fish dish – needs just a little something more.

  4. this is one of my favortie spots! i go there once a week for tumeric fish, luckily it is the first tumeric fish i’ve had so i didn’t realized i was missing some funky stuff :). since there is no dessert which saddens me as well i sneak over to sweets for the soul for a brownie

  5. great review! i have heard about this on other blogs and have been wanting to try. since you mentioned of bo bia, do you know where they sell good ones? so far, i find the homemade ones to be the best. but then maybe i haven’t gone to too many places?

  6. I had the soup version of what you ate, and I agree that even that dish seemed like it was missing something. Im not too experienced in Vietnamese food, so I wasn’t able to say. I enjoyed the jicama spring rolls, mostly the sauce they were dipped in.
    But form what I hear, if you get in early.. the bakery next door is amazing and has some great ice cream.

  7. Cathy – The best bo bia I’ve eaten to date was made by my aunt Thu. I think this dish tastes best homemade because we don’t skimp on the sausage or dried shrimp πŸ™‚ I will let you know if I ever encounter a noteworthy restaurant rendition.

    Steph – Cha Ca Thanh Long is one of the boldest, most flavorful noodle dishes in the Vietnamese pantheon. It’s cooked tableside in Vietnam, which makes it extra awesome. I hope you’ll get to try a version like that sometime!

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