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 like 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 serves a hodgepodge of Vietnamese dishes to a hip and trendy crowd. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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