The Astronomer and I dined at Ngự Bình Restaurant earlier this summer while in Little Saigon for a very special wedding. With three hours to fill in between the ceremony and reception, we decided to stuff ourselves silly with Vietnamese food.
Little Saigon is slightly too far for us to explore on the regular, so we had to seize this opportunity to dine on the best Vietnamese food this side of the Pacific.
In the midst of all the wedding chaos, the bride and groom were kind enough to point us to Ngự Bình for Central Vietnamese cuisine. Here, chef and owner Mai Tran prepares family recipes that she learned in her hometown of Thua Thien. The delicate steamed dumplings and complex noodle soups that hail from this region never fail to make me swoon.
The first dish to land on our table was the mit xuc banh trang ($6.25). The young jackfruit salad was served warm with a smattering of Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), slivers of pork, and crushed peanuts. We scooped up the salad using the crisp sesame crackers and delivered the goods swiftly to our mouths. A bit of fish sauce was all that was needed to set the flavors properly ablaze.
The banh beo (6.25) were served in shallow porcelain dishes stacked precariously on a tray. An order included ten thin and tender steamed rice cakes topped with ground shrimp, mung bean paste, scallion oil, and crunchy crackings of pork skin.
To eat, we drizzled a sweetened fish sauce onto the cakes and carefully spooned them out, making sure to loosen the edges first. These were some of the best banh beo that The Astronomer and I have ever tasted.
The banh it kep banh ram ($6.95) were just as fabulous as the two dishes that preceded them. The two-story cakes were comprised of shrimp-stuffed glutinous rice dumplings perched atop fried glutinous rice cakes. Even though my molars had to work overtime to break down these awesomely sticky and chewy things, I couldn’t get enough of them.
Our fourth and final dish was a huge bowl of mi Quang ($6.25) with all the fixings, including turmeric noodles, banana flower, lettuce, beansprouts, shrimp, pork, rice crackers, and herbs, all in a shallow pool of sweet pork broth. The noodles were orangier than usual, but everything else was exactly as it should be.
Following lunch at Ngự Bình, The Astronomer insisted that we head next door to Bao Hien Rong Vang for a tall cup of fresh sugarcane juice. It tasted more kumquat-y than we preferred, but it was a fine drink nevertheless.
With a roaring endorsement from The Ravenous Couple and good press all around, I knew that we were in for a treat at Ngự Bình. From start to finish, the food and flavors were solid, while the service was helpful enough. This just might be my new favorite Vietnamese restaurant in town.
Ngự Bình Restaurant
14072 Magnolia Street
Westminster, CA 92683
Bao Hien Rong Vang
14092 Magnolia Street
Westminster, CA 92683