A Weekend in Little Saigon - Delectable Meatball and Cold Cut Banh Mi Sandwiches (Ba Le Westminster), Refreshing Cococane, Steaming Beef Noodle Soups, Crunchy & Silky Rice Cakes and Vietnamese Ice Coffee (Phin Smith) [Thoughts + Pics]

Yeah I know it’s unbelievable but the chef is Vietnamese and had his 15 minutes of fame slanging green tofu balls and a Vietnamese pop up. So it’s not quite as unbelievable given that context.

The Chao Long at Cho Tam Bien is so good. Housemade sausages…lemongrass/herb and a blood one, along with some offal and blood cake. It is absolutely one of my favorite porridges in all of So Cal!

I love my Canto/Taiwanese porridge but damn when you figure in the time and care to make 2 different sausages, preparing offal and blood cake…(kinda like how Ba Le makes everything).

A Ba Le Banh Mi and Cho Tam Bien Chao Long would be a great bang bang with your choice of beverage…cococane, viet coffee at Phin Smith.

I have not been to Pho Akaushi in a while (I am actually on the other side of the country FYI lol but I’ll be back home in 1.5-2 years and I’ll try make some visits back home here and there)

When Tom at Pho Akaushi is on point, it’s probably the best damn bowl of Pho in Little Saigon

1 Like

Be sure to grab some of those Hanoi crab egg rolls as well at Hanoi Avenue see @Chowseeker1999 posts above!

2 Likes

It’s pretty bad imo I hate to say it and I been to Hanoi Corner multiple times. They even expanded to another location.

Lol at every 15 years. Do a staycation and take the family…you can do Laguna Beach, Disneyland, and eat in Little Saigon!

Hi @JeetKuneBao,

Thanks for the recommendation. We’ll definitely be trying that visit next time! :slight_smile:

Wait, you ended up moving already?! :frowning: Thanks for continuing to contribute on our West Coast board, hope you get to come back and visit before 2 years. Your reports will be missed!

1 Like

Update 5 (To-Go, Part 2):

I foolishly thought we had explored enough of Little Saigon for awhile, until @JeetKuneBao @Ns1 @attran99 and others decided to post and share yet more interesting restaurants to try. :exploding_head: Before we knew it, we found ourselves heading south to Little Saigon again. :slight_smile:

Bhan Khot Lady


Opened by a Vietnamese woman who lost her job due to the pandemic, her children encouraged her to start making a family recipe of Banh Khot (Vietnamese Savory Mini-Pancakes made from Rice Flour). According to the son, it’s based on his mom’s family recipe from Central Vietnam. We couldn’t wait to try it! :slight_smile:

Banh Khot (28 Pieces) (Savory Mini-Pancakes made from Rice Flour, Turmeric, Pork & Shrimp):

First of all, the Greens were immaculate: Crisp, fresh, bright Romaine Lettuce, perfect Cilantro, Mint, Tia To (Vietnamese Perilla).

This was our first time eating Banh Khot. The son recommended that we eat it like a Lettuce Wrap, a bit of Romaine Lettuce, some of the Herbs and the Banh Khot, then dip it in their “Khot Sauce” (which was like a milder Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Fish Sauce-based Dipping Sauce)).

Even eaten at room temperature (they had just finished up our batch “a few minutes earlier”), it was delicious! :blush:

Cool, fresh, crisp Romaine Lettuce with Vietnamese Perilla, Cilantro and Mint gave way to a slightly crispy edge from the Banh Khot, and a bit of Shrimp and Marinated Pork and softish, almost creamy center (made from Rice Flour and Turmeric). :blush:

They recommended that we could eat them as is, or reheat at home in a conventional oven, 400 degrees for about 5 minutes. We tried that later, and the Banh Khot came out crispy and hot, with a soft center. Even better! :heart:

I need to defer to our FTC Vietnamese cuisine experts (@Ns1 @attran99 @JeetKuneBao @hppzz and others) on how Banh Khot Lady’s Banh Khot compares to the best in So Cal, but for our first try of this dish, it was a great culinary experience!

Thanks again for the recommendation @Ns1 @JeetKuneBao!

(Place orders via a link on their Instagram.)

Banh Khot Lady
https://www.instagram.com/banhkhotlady/
(Pick up location is in the Fountain Valley area (near Little Saigon).)

We continued our Little Saigon adventures by driving a few minutes North:

Ba Le Sandwiches (Westminster) (Revisit)


We probably just missed @attran99 hearing about your visit today as well! :slight_smile: Walking in, there were a couple customers before us, and Little Saigon had plenty of traffic going in and out of the area. Looks like businesses are starting to pick up.

#6: Banh Mi Trung (Egg Baguette):

First off, @attran99’s advice worked! We asked the owner if she could make make the #6 Banh Mi Trung (Egg Baguette) but with Sunny Side Up Eggs. She said “OK” this time. :blush:

As you can see above, we got slippery, luscious Egg Yolks that were still runny (not overcooked), and that was fantastic with Ba Le Sandwiches’ Housemade Baguette. Lightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, the runny Sunny Side Up Eggs, Pickled Carrots & Radish, some nice heat from the Jalapeno Chilies and fresh Cilantro. :heart: Fans of Egg Banh Mi take note! (@Dommy @PorkyBelly and others.)

#1: Banh Mi Thit Nguoi + Bi (Cold Cuts + Shredded Pork Baguette):

But it’s their #1, Banh Mi Thit Nguoi + Bi (Cold Cuts + Shredded Pork Baguette (make sure you ask them to add the Bi (Shredded Pork)), that remains my favorite Banh Mi in all of So Cal right now:

Without the heat from the Eggs, their Housemade Baguette remains crisped and airy, longer, and their Thit Nguoi (Cold Cuts) are outstanding! They are all mild, porky, very fresh and meaty, with no funk that some versions have around town. The Housemade Mayo, Pate, the textural contrast from their Bi (Shredded Pork / Skin), Pickled Carrots and Daikon and Cilantro and a nice spiciness from the Jalapenos makes this simply incredible! :heart: :blush: :heart:

This Banh Mi alone was worth our trip today. That’s how good it was. :heart:

Ba Le Sandwiches (Westminster) looks like it’s doing better during the pandemic, with more customers in and out (all social distanced). It is probably the best value for our FTC’ers, one of Southern California’s culinary highlights, all for $3.68 (+ tax).

Ba Le Sandwiches (Westminster)
9152 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 891-9424

Cho Tam Bien


Literally just 2 blocks East of Ba Le Sandwiches is Cho Tam Bien, less than 1 minute away by car. Thanks to a recommendation from @JeetKuneBao, Cho Tam Bien is a Vietnamese Porridge Specialist, and they have only 4 menu items that were listed on a wall.

There was a line of ~8 - 9 people out the door (socially distanced).

Chao Long (Vietnamese Porridge with Housemade Lemongrass Pork Sausage, Housemade Blood Sausage, Pork Stomach, Pork Heart, Pork Intestine, Pork Tongue and Pork Liver):

Taking a bite Cho Tam Bien’s Chao Long is a bit more soupy than Chinese Porridge. Thinking about Chef Minh Phan’s amazing elevated Porridge at Porridge & Puffs and this traditional Vietnamese Chao Long is nothing like that at all. :open_mouth: :slight_smile:

I wish our order taker had mentioned that this Chao Long had included Pork Liver (I’m generally not a Liver fan), but otherwise, the rest of the ingredients were tasty with the Porridge and Pork Bone Broth base. I really liked their Housemade Lemongrass Pork Sausage and Pork Stomach. :slight_smile:

Cho Tam Bien
9550 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 548-4993

Continuing on our bang x bang x bang x bang x bang, we headed 1 block East (less than 1 minute by car) to another great FTC recommendation:

Thanh Restaurant


Thanh Restaurant is a Com Tam (Vietnamese Broken Rice) Specialist, and there were about 12+ people waiting for To-Go orders outside (socially distanced) when we arrived(!). :open_mouth:

#34: Com Tam Tau Hu Ky Cha Thit Nuong Bi (Broken Rice with 1 Choice of BBQ Meat (BBQ Pork), Shrimp Mousseline in Tofu Paper, Steamed Pork Cake & Julienne Pork) (Swapped the Sausage for Bi (Julienne Pork)):

Steamed Pork (& Egg) Cake:

The Steamed Egg & Pork Cake was moist, fluffy and bright, but it was a touch too salty (just a touch). Very good otherwise. :slight_smile:

Tau Hu Ky (Shrimp Mousseline in Tofu Paper):

Their Tau Hu Ky (Shrimp Mousseline in Tofu Paper) was lightly crisped, not oily, and surprisingly meaty (being just Shrimp). This was well-done and one of the better versions we’ve had. :slight_smile:

Thit Nuong (BBQ Pork):

The Thit Nuong (BBQ Pork) was excellent! A light sweet & savory marinade, the pieces of BBQ Pork were tender, moist and delicious! :heart:

Bi (Julienne Pork):

But the surprise was their Bi (Julienne Pork), which turned out to be fantastic! One of the best versions of Bi we’ve ever had: It was very fresh (didn’t taste like refrigerated large batch versions with some funk from being made a few days earlier that other places have). It was lightly porky, nice texture, tender meatiness with a little bit of chew (in a good way). Loved this. :heart:

We can’t wait to come back and try more items. We noticed they also serve Chao (Vietnamese Porridge). Has anyone tried it here before? (@JeetKuneBao @attran99 @Ns1 and others?)

Thanh Restaurant was a nice surprise. A very good Com Tam (Vietnamese Broken Rice) Specialist literally just a couple minutes from Ba Le Sandwiches, and New Duong Son BBQ. A huge thanks to @JeetKuneBao for the recommendation! :blush:

(Cash Only)

Thanh Restaurant
9870 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 531-3888

We continued to head East, to try the next FTC recommendation:

Com Tam Tran Quy Cap


I remember hearing about this restaurant from our old board, but forgot about it until @Ns1 reminded us of the recommendation. Thanks! :slight_smile:

Com Tam Tran Quy Cap is also a Vietnamese Broken Rice Specialist having been a mainstay of Little Saigon for years now. They are currently doing Takeout Only, and when we arrived there were about 3 customers waiting for orders.

#50. Combo #3 - Com Tam Tau Hu Ky, Tom, Suon Nuong, Bi Cha (Broken Rice Platter with Fried Shrimp Cake, Shrimp, Pork Chop, Shredded Pork Skin, Egg Cake):

Cha Trung (Egg Cake):

Their Cha Trung (Egg Cake) was moist, tasting freshly made that day, and less salty than Thanh Restaurant’s version.

Tom (Shrimp):

Their Shrimp Skewer was fine. Not bad, good marinade, lightly sweet-salty.

Bi (Shredded Pork Skin):

Their Bi (Shredded Pork Skin) was fine, a bit more chew and tug than the other versions of Bi we had today, but still fresh.

Suon Nuong (BBQ Pork Chop):

The BBQ Pork Chop was juicy and nicely grilled. Really good flavor, it reminded us of the BBQ Pork at Thanh’s but perhaps a touch more zesty. :slight_smile:

Tau Hu Ky (Shrimp Cake):

But it’s their Tau Hu Ky (Shrimp Cake) that was the highlight of this Broken Rice platter: An incredibly crispy exterior (Fried Tofu Skin), the stuffed Ground Shrimp was meaty but more tender than Thanh’s version (which was good), but this version was even better! :heart:

A big thanks to @Ns1 for the recommendation.

Com Tam Tran Quy Cap
16175 Harbor Blvd.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Tel: (714) 418-1333

Phin Smith


As we walked up to Phin Smith, we were wondering if we went to the wrong spot: This was a gentrified part of town, and the first few menu items - Charcoal Latte, Lavender Latte, Rose Latte - along with some hamsters, made us think we were back on the Westside in Venice at a hamster coffee shop. :sweat_smile: After the first sip…

Oh how wrong we were. :slight_smile:

Ca Phe Sua Da - “Phin Style” (Vietnamese Iced Coffee - with Hazelnut Cream, Sea Salt Cream):

Phin Smith’s website offers some nice info about their Coffee: The District 1 Roast is “named after Quan Nhat in Saigon, our District 1 Roast uses Robusta beans grown in the central highlands of Vietnam.”

Taking a sip:

A wave of euphoria washes over me. Incredible aroma, balanced flavor, smooth, nutty, and then you get a little bit of this Hazelnut creaminess and a little bit of Sea Salt (from their Sea Salt Cream).

This is probably the best Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese Iced Coffee) I’ve ever had! :heart: :blush: :heart:

Darn it @Ns1 @JeetKuneBao why are you holding out on us?! (I kid, I kid!) :wink: It was thanks to @Ns1 and @JeetKuneBao’s strong reports back that we knew we had to make a stop to Phin Smith soon! :blush: Thank you again!

Coconut Coffee (Ice Blend):

Their Coconut Coffee was a “must order” according to our server. She was right:

This Ice Blended Coffee Drink was crazy good!

At the heart of it is a Frozen Coconut “Ice Cream” that tastes lighter, cleaner than regular Ice Cream (we forgot to ask if this was Non-Dairy or not). Regardless, it was light, chilled, and had a beautiful Coconut flavor without overwhelming (and I’m not a Coconut fan normally).

Then they add their incredible Phin Smith Coffee and blend the two together.

The flavor combination is ridiculous! :heart: It was perfect for this hot day! :blush:

Phin Smith was an eye opener and yet another treasure worth a stop when you visit Little Saigon. From the clean, modern interior and presentation, to the some of the best Vietnamese Iced Coffee around, with Robusta Beans they source from the Central Highlands of Vietnam (make sure you try it “Phin Style” once), to a beautiful Coconut Coffee Ice Blend, Phin Smith is a highlight! (@attran99 @J_L @PorkyBelly @A5KOBE @beefnoguy @hanhgry and others.)

Phin Smith
12921 Main St.
Garden Grove, CA 92840

https://www.phinsmith.com/

This was another wonderful culinary trip, with many new experiences thanks to FTC! We capped off our trip today with a stop at Oliboli Donuts. :blush:

12 Likes

Wow now that’s a visit!!!

Re:Bhan Khot, honestly you won’t find any better than Bhan Khot Lady and I ain’t even tried it!!! I can tell by your pics alone.

Hell I know it ain’t the same but with similar ingredients I actually prefer Bhan Khot over Banh Xeo.

I am pretty confident you won’t find any better and you had the best in Little Saigon!!!

Re: The porridge looks a little watery to me. If you weren’t going to other places I would recommend you take home their housemade sausage.

Glad you enjoyed those broken rice plates, that’s a lot of food!!

Re:Phin Smith. Best damn Sua Da! Glad you enjoyed it. Makes a great stop while hitting up Little Saigon/OC or a little pick me up on the way home.

While scrolling down I was actually surprise no Cococane!

Again another awesome review of your trip to Little Saigon!!

8 Likes

Hi @JeetKuneBao,

Thanks. And thank you again for all the great recommendations! :blush:

The Banh Khot was really tasty, so that’s good to know that Banh Khot Lady is probably a good version.

Have you tried the Chao Porridge at Thanh? Just curious how their version might be like.

Definitely enjoyed Thanh for the Com Tam (Broken Rice). Thanks.

Re: Cococane - Don’t say it! LOL. :sweat_smile: I so wanted to go, but we were going to Phin Smith, and planning on trying at least 2 of their drinks (maybe 3). So Cococane would’ve just been too much liquid at that point! :wink: But I was definitely feeling the FOMO!

Like going to Langer’s and not ordering their legendary Pastrami Sandwich, and trying other things… I looked wistfully up Brookhurst Street as we drove on to Com Tam Tran Quy Cap… I almost teared up. :smile:

But thankfully Phin Smith turned out to make some amazing drinks and @Ns1 and your recommendation made a nice end of the Little Saigon trip (along with Oliboli). :blush:

2 Likes

Were we like two ships passing in the night? I was in a bit before lunch today. The bác (older auntie) at Ba Le is so sweet. She makes almost any order possible. So thrilled for your egg banh mi. When they sunny side up the eggs, I think it’s better than Saigon’s. You could also buy the supplies and DIY at home. That will be one of our dinners this week.
I’ve only ever eaten any kind of chao at home. My Mom’s chao long is more brothy than traditional chao…chao long should be a bit soupy than regular chao. The livers, kidneys, and blood cubes being my favorite bits. Did they not offer you any dau chao quay (youtiao)? In our house, we cut them and toast them for crispy croutons.
Admittedly, I’m not a huge consumer of coffee anymore, and I certainly make efforts to not consume cafe sua da anytime after noon if I want to keep to a regular schedule. I haven’t been to Phin Smith, but I’ve heard so many good things about it.
@Chowseeker1999 You should know that you can get Cococane with no ice. Take it home and refrigerate. Add ice when you are ready. You can also buy half gallons for home. I did that today, and dropped it off for a friend with the same instructions. I didn’t want the ice to water down the drink until they were ready to have it.

7 Likes

Hi @attran99,

Oh nice! Yah, we showed up during the lunch hour. :slight_smile: Yes, the older auntie at Ba Le is really nice, thank you again for the egg tip. I think you’re right, that Ba Le’s might be better than Saigon’s but I need to do more research first to verify. :wink:

Chao at Cho Tam Bien: Yah they did ask us if we wanted Dau Chao Quay, but when we asked if they were freshly made, or they already made a batch of them earlier in the day, they said it was pre-made, so I wasn’t sure if it’d still be crispy and good? Do they hold up OK?

Oh, I didn’t know you don’t drink Ca Phe Sua Da anymore. I rarely drink Coffee these days in general with stay at home especially, but if you do end up in the mood for Vietnamese Iced Coffee give Phin Smith a try; really stunning.

Cococane: Wow, great tip! Thank you. :slight_smile: Usually we show up to Cococane and it’s already really warm / hot in the afternoon, so we need the Cococane immediately! :smile: Do they still give you chunks of Coconut for the half gallons you take home? Thanks.

1 Like

Hi @JeetKuneBao,

Oh, also your recommendation for Cho Tam Bien… we noticed they serve Bun Rieu there as well(!). How is it? Thanks.

I’m so sad I missed an opportunity to meet you for real yesterday! But I am thrilled the egg banh mi worked out for you. To me, it’s a great breakfast as it mixes a traditional American thing with what I grew up eating. That yolky egg is something else.
For the most part, I avoid cafe sua da after noon. I find that I have trouble sleeping at night since it wires me for most of the day.
Dau chao quay, if made the same day, should be okay to cut and retoast in the toaster oven for crispy croutons. If you keep it in an airtight container, you may get a couple of more days using the toaster oven crouton method. Growing up, we lived away from LS so Mom did what she could to stretch out the weekly shopping trips.
Unfortunately, Cococane half gallons do not come with coconut flesh. The only downfall to the half gallon. But a little bit goes a long way. I was reminded how much of the large is ice yesterday (slightly more than half). Even though there’s so much ice, Cococane tends to be a bit too sweet for me so I can make one last the whole day. In fact, I didn’t finish one yesterday and it’s currently sitting in the fridge waiting for me.

5 Likes

How did I not know about this hack before??? :slight_smile:

3 Likes

It’s my favorite way of eating them. I always thought they were toasted crispy for crunch in soupy dishes. I’ve only found out later in life that you’re supposed to eat them fresh out of the fryer.

3 Likes

Hi @attran99,

Thanks for the tips! Like @paranoidgarliclover I never even thought about that, retoasting Dau Chao Quay in a toaster oven. Do you just reheat over low heat for a few minutes?

Cococane: OK, good to know. Like you, I don’t like overly sugary things, but I think because Cococane “on the spot” drinks are served with ice, that helps dilute it just enough. So good. :blush:

You definitely want to skip Mia Perfect Juice down the road in Little Saigon as well. That was sweeter than Cococane for us and too sweet for my tastes.

1 Like

we’re plebs and just hit toast to desired doneness

2 Likes

Hi @Ns1,

Oh I was going to ask: Given that Phin Smith’s Ca Phe Sua Da is $4.25 / $4.75 per cup (+ tax & tip), do you think Phin Smith might be helping the change in mindset of the locals and customers who come into Little Saigon to eat?

Could they slowly be willing to pay more for legit, absolutely delicious Vietnamese food so the mom & pop shops can earn a better living instead of charging only bottom of the barrel prices?

I typically cut them into large coins, and toss them in using the toast function. I’ve got one of those Breville toaster ovens…I’ll set it to medium toast with like 2-3 slices. Works well all the time. You can decrease if you want it more chewy than crispy.

1 Like

Never tried the Bun Rieu at CTB or the porridge at Thanhs.

I might give it a shot at CTB for Bun Rieu if I am in town/back home, simply because I know it’s probably one of the Aunties or Grannies recipe and if they make housemade sausages maybe the same care would go in that…maybe

1 Like

I had the Banh Khot Lady today and in my limited experience with it, this was really good. The bottoms are very crispy and the khot sauce was just perfect, not too sweet, slightly salty and super flavorful. The banh Khot had a beautiful coconut perfume in the batter. The picked daikon and carrot were also perfection, sliced thinly and pickled with just the slightest sweetness. Perfect for your bite sized lettuce wraps. BYOSriracha if your like me and like to mix hot sauce in your khot sauce for some extra heat. I reheated my leftovers in the oven and they are even better because they are room temperature upon arrival. The lettuce, basil and cilantro were all super fresh and very nicely washed.

Grabbed a ca phe sua da at Phin Smith, best I’ve ever had. Not the strongest I’ve ever had, don’t need to let the ice melt on this one. :joy:

Also hit Ba Le again, 3rd week in a row. I’ll spare you the obligatory banh mi picture since @Chowseeker1999 covered it a few posts above.

Little Saigon saved my weekend eats from meal mediocrity.

13 Likes