Caramelized catfish is a childhood favorite of mine. Mom rarely makes it anymore, but Garlic & Chives makes a version that comes super close. Their version is sweeter than hers.
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]
Thanks! Seriously it was thanks to your great info on the differences between Banh Canh and Bun Rieu that we were able to appreciate these restaurants even more.
It seems like as you’ve all said, that the great versions of Banh Canh and Bun Rieu are at home with your family’s home cooking. None of the Banh Canh that we ordered looked as amazing as the homemade version that @hppzz posted.
There are even very few home versions that look as spectacular as @hppzz.
@Chowseeker1999 you both are too kind, now I’m afraid to invite you over for a bowl
Thanks @hppzz! If you ever run across noteworthy versions of Bun Rieu or Banh Canh (outside of your homemade verisons!) please let us know. (And thank you again for all your help and advice!)
Since our beloved @attran99 was asking about the state of Little Saigon mom & pop shops, and if they were open or not during the pandemic, we decided to drive through Little Saigon and do a Takeout Journey to report back on if these shops were open or closed.
(Note: As @attran99 posted, with the almost zero traffic these days, it took us only 35 minutes to get to Little Saigon!)
Banh Mi Cho Cu Bakery (Revisit)
Banh Mi Cho Cu is open during the pandemic.
A favorite of Das Ubergeek from our old board, we’ve been stopping by once in a while for their Banh Mi Xiu Mai (our favorite item from the menu).
Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Meatball Sandwich):
We were the only customers in the shop (around lunch time during the weekend). The Xiu Mai (Meatballs) were as delicious as usual: Cho Cu’s Vietnamese Meatballs are probably some of the most balanced Xiu Mai we’ve had in a Banh Mi Sandwich locally. Many places are way too sweet, or too dense. At Cho Cu, it’s tender, savory with a touch of sweetness, good marinade and Sauce as well.
Their Baguette Bread on this visit was a miss: It wasn’t bad, but not up to their usual standards. It had a bit more chew to the Baguette, and wasn’t as airy as usual. Perhaps the lack of customers / low turnover is contributing (as they usually bake multiple batches of Baguettes in-house throughout the day)?
Still at only $4.50, and with good tasting Xiu Mai (Meatballs) and other bright, fresh accompaniments (Radish, Carrots, Cilantro, Jalapeno), it was still a good Sandwich. We hope this mom & pop shop survives and we can be back when they have higher turnover of Baguettes.
Banh Mi Cho Cu
14520 Magnolia St B, Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 891-3718
New Duong Son BBQ (Revisit)
Happy to report that New Duong Son BBQ is open as well!
Social distancing in place:
And they were serious about it. They only let in 1 customer at a time to order and get their food before the next customer could walk in.
Heo Quay (Crispy Roast Pork):
- New Duong Son BBQ’s Crispy Roast Pork needs to be eaten ASAP. It will not survive the car ride back to the Westside.
Taking a bite: Gorgeously crunchy Roast Pork Skin! Then the lean Pork meat was more tender today than our previous visit. It’s still on the meatier side, a different style of cutting than many Hong Kong BBQ Roast Pork Belly treatments, but this was SO GOOD!
Huge thanks again @Dommy @PorkyBelly @Ns1 bulavinaka.
Xa Xiu (Honeyed BBQ Pork):
Their Honeyed BBQ Pork is their Vietnamese take on Hong Kong BBQ, it’s actually more tender and moist than many San Gabriel Valley Hong Kong BBQ joints we’ve tried over the years(!). It’s fine, and this dish will survive the car ride just fine (as it’s not crispy / fried).
New Duong Son BBQ is probably our favorite place to pick up a Hong Kong-esque BBQ Roast Pork and Roast Duck and Honeyed BBQ Pork in Orange County so far, a nice little mom & pop shop, friendly service, and outside of Ruby BBQ’s legendary Roast Pork Belly, New Duong Son BBQ might be our 2nd favorite in So Cal.
New Duong Son BBQ
9211 Bolsa Ave., # 115
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 901-1600
Ba Le Sandwiches (Westminster)
While we’ve been to a “Ba Le” Banh Mi shop up in the San Gabriel Valley (and it was rather mediocre), thanks to a strong recommendation from @bruins for a Ba Le Sandwiches in Westminster, we stopped by to see how it compared.
First, the good news: Ba Le Sandwiches (Westminster) is open during this pandemic.
It looked like a mother & daughter running the restaurant, both were wearing masks and we were the only customers in the store.
Walking in, you could see them running a rotating oven, baking more fresh Baguettes, which was a good sign.
#3: Banh Mi Ga (Chicken Baguette (Hot)):
Taking a bite, shatteringly crisp, airy Baguette!
It was so light and airy and tasted freshly baked. It was outstanding!
The Ga (Chicken) was moist, tender and with a good Soy Sauce-based marinade, with a touch of sweetness. Add to that bright, crisp Radish and Carrots, Cilantro and Jalapeno and you have one of the best Chicken Banh Mi Sandwiches that I can remember. (@TheCookie @attran99 and others.)
#1: Banh Mi Thit Nguoi + Bi (Cold Cut + Shredded Pork Baguette):
I love Vietnamese Shredded Pork Skin (Bi), so I asked the cashier if I could add it to the #1, and she said, “OK, no problem!”
Confession: We’ve been rather disappointed with the far too many Cold Cut Banh Mi Sandwiches in recent memory. Many of them taste of refrigerated funk, or have an off-taste, or are rubbery and just OK. We were prepared for the worst…
The fresh-baked Baguette is again, shatteringly crisp(!), it is almost cloud-like, the lightest Baguette we’ve had for a Banh Mi that I can remember.
Then the Cold Cuts with the Bi (Shredded Pork Skin) was savory, meaty, like a good Mortadella. It wasn’t funky, or off-tasting. Just a good, light porcine flavor, the Bi (Shredded Pork Skin) tasted fresh and added just a bit of textural contrast.
One of the best Banh Mi I’ve ever had! (@PorkyBelly @J_L @Ns1 @A5KOBE @attran99 @hppzz and others.)
I remember some other FTC’ers mentioning “Ba Le Sandwiches” in Little Saigon a long time ago, but I always thought it was just a branch of the mediocre San Gabriel Valley “Ba Le.” Nope.
This Ba Le Sandwiches in Westminster looks nothing like the SGV one, and is leagues better: Incredible airy Baguette (and you can see them baking fresh Baguettes throughout the day), a good savory Chicken in the Banh Mi Ga, and their #1 Banh Mi Thit Nguoi + Bi (Cold Cut Baguette, add Shredded Pork Skin) was one of the highlights of this journey! I regret not stopping by sooner. Thank you again @bruins @JeetKuneBao and others.
Ba Le Sandwiches
9152 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 891-9424
Thuan Thoi (Cococane) (CLOSED)
Sadly, one of our legendary FTC drink shops that @JeetKuneBao discovered has CLOSED due to COVID-19.
I really hope Cococane comes back after the closure. Currently, this is one of the biggest drink shop losses in Little Saigon that we’ve heard of. @JeetKuneBao @J_L @attran99 @hppzz @Ns1 @PorkyBelly @A5KOBE and others.
Thuan Thoi Cococane
14338 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Tel: (714) 717-8750
Ha Noi Avenue (The Avenue) (Revisit)
Ha Noi Avenue (The Avenue) is open during the pandemic for Takeout Orders Only.
Nem Ran Cua Be (Ha Noi-Style Crab Egg Rolls Served with Vermicelli & Vegetables):
It’s normally served cut up into quarters, but they just serve the whole larger Hanoi-style Crab(!) Egg Rolls uncut.
- PSA: These should be eaten immediately in the car. They do not survive a car ride back to the Westside.
The first bite:
Crispy, crunchy, piping hot. There’s a beautiful brininess from the Crab meat, and you get Crab Roe(!), just like before. There’s some marinated Ground Pork as well, and the whole thing, when eaten with the pristine Vegetables & Herbs they packaged makes for one of the best Vietnamese Egg Rolls we’ve ever had!
I love these Hanoi-style Crab Egg Rolls at Ha Noi Avenue. Another highlight of our journey today. A huge thanks again to @JeetKuneBao!
Ha Noi Avenue (The Avenue)
8432 Westminster Blvd.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 898-8838
Ngu Binh (Revisit)
Ngu Binh is open!
They won’t even let you into the restaurant. Instead, you are greeted at the door (w/ a table blocking the entrance) by an order taker, and you can place you order right there (or call ahead). When it’s ready, they will deliver the food to the front door, one customer at a time.
They currently only serve 1 size (large) for their legendary Bun Bo Hue.
Bun Bo Hue Dac Biet (Spicy Hue Style Beef Noodle Soup):
First, as a PSA:
- Ngu Binh’s Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Hue Style Beef Noodle Soup) does not survive a long car ride back (sort of).
Ngu Binh’s staff does a great job of packaging everything separately (even the Noodles), which remain rather springy after a ~40 minute car ride.
However, part of the magic of Ngu Binh’s Bun Bo Hue is it’s served piping hot, with a layer of even hotter Chili Oil. So after taking it back home, quickly putting it into a bowl, adding the Herbs (which were pristine and so fresh and bright (love the Banana Flowers!)), and mixing it all together…
The Beef Noodle Soup was already lukewarm.
We soon realized (too late), that reheating the Beef Noodle Soup and then adding everything together might be the trick that saves it? If anyone has a good recommendation for how to revive the Soup / overall taste, please chime in (@attran99 @JeetKuneBao @hppzz @Ns1 and others), thanks!
However, even lukewarm, there was enough magic in the bowl. You could still taste the deep savory beefiness in Ngu Binh’s Bun Bo Hue. The slices of Beef Brisket, the Stewed Pork Foot, cubes of Pork Blood, the Housemade Pork Sausage were all very good still.
Perhaps the winning move next time might be: Bring Your Own Soup Bowls (BYOSB) (large size) and after getting the order from Ngu Binh, quickly construct everything in your car and enjoy in the empty parking lot.
I’m looking forward to the day we can enjoy the incredible Bun Bo Hue straight outta the kitchen, in the restaurant, but until then, those that live closer to Ngu Binh have a good way to enjoy their Spicy Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup.
14092 Magnolia Street
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 903-6000
So thrilled! Thanks for the recon mission, @Chowseeker1999!
I have been craving banh boc loc la and some DIY banh mi at home. I know where I’m headed next weekend!
The Ba Le folks are so nice! Try asking if they can do a yolky egg inside any of their sandwiches.
With regards to reheating BBH, I would get home and reheat just the broth until it simmers. Build your bowl with the noodles and accoutrements before pouring in the hot broth. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do in pinch. For folks who get pho to-go, have them leave your pho noodles raw. You can use a mesh strainer to hydrate/cook them at home as you reheat the broth. I learned this from my Mom growing up…before she tried a hand at making pho herself…FYI, she found it to be too much work and went back to getting takeout pho. She refuses to use the InstantPot she asked me to get her two Christmases ago.
P.S. I grew up eating New Duong Son BBQ. Many crispy pigs have catered our family meals. If you enjoyed the BBQ pork, I would also suggest asking for a cup of sauce to take home…it’s great to douse over some fresh rice…maybe add some pickled mustard greens for acidity and crunch. It’s been a while, but we switched over of Lien Hoa over the years.
I mine as well say it Little Saigon Ba Le is the best Banh Mi shop in LS, when you consider all things, they make everything!! Also of note you can also buy their mayo and pate to go
WOW!! That’s quite the spread still at New Duong Son BBQ!! Glad they are still open and bringining it! Sad about CocoCane. One of the last things we did was take a Little Saigon Tour with friends for Bahn Xeo. We hit Cococane in the middle of the trip and it was a dream! Looking forward to heading back after all this.
Thanks for the tip on reheating Bun Bo Hue! I’ll try that next time.
And I definitely want to try the Egg Banh Mi next time at Ba Le. And great tip on how to best enjoy Pho to go.
Thanks again for all the great recs. I really hope Cococane is OK.
What’s your favorite sandwich at Ba Le Westminster? Thanks.
Where did you go for Banh Xeo?
We went to
Overall, La Xahns was better… But I liked Thahn Ha a lot because it was so crisp. Both were better than Brodard to me… my previous favorite.
Thanks @Dommy @JeetKuneBao.
Is there a go to flavor for Banh Xeo you’d recommend?
I think Pork and Shrimp is the most popular. For me really it’s not so much the pork and shrimp but the actual crepe, herbs, fish sauce/chilli sauce, and freshness that I enjoy. In Little Saigon, Quan Mii is kinda the place now for Banh Xeo, you can do it traditional with everything wrapped in lettuce or roll everything up in a roll
Thanks @JeetKuneBao! Can’t wait to try this. Also, I noticed Google says there are 2 Quan Mii restaurants?
Which one do you recommend I go to?
I haven’t been to the new one in Fountain Valley but I been to the Bolsa one.
My cousins and I go to the Bolsa one, too.
Bolsa for sure!
Update 4 (To-Go):
Our previous trip to Little Saigon during the pandemic reminded us of even more mom & pop places we were hoping to support during this shutdown, so we headed back.
Ba Le Sandwiches (Westminster) (Revisit)
Ba Le Sandwiches in Westminster stunned us when we visited them for the first time recently, putting out some of the best Banh Mi Sandwiches we’ve ever had. We wanted to go back and show some support.
On this visit, we noticed the rotating oven (with a see-through glass door) was off, and no customers were inside.
#7 - Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Pork Meatball Sandwich):
Ba Le’s Xiu Mai (Pork Meatballs) are only a touch sweet (thankfully), with a fresh, tender, moist Meatball filling. I think we prefer Banh Mi Cho Cu more for a more balanced savory, barely any sweetness, delectable Xiu Mai, but these are probably our 2nd favorite, as many Banh Mi Xiu Mai we’ve had at other places around town are way too sweet.
Their Housemade Bread on this visit was a bit soft(!), fresh tasting, but lacked any crispness.
#1 - Banh Mi Thit Nguoi (Cold Cuts Sandwich) + Bi (Shredded Pork Skin):
Their #1, the Banh Mi Thit Nguoi (Cold Cuts) Sandwich, add Bi (Shredded Pork Skin), was perfect!
Their Housemade Bread was toasty-crisp, with a light crunch to the exterior, the various Vietnamese Cold Cuts within were all balanced and fresh tasting, a smear of Pate, the Bi (Shredded Pork Skin) added textural contrast and some porkiness, and the fresh, bright crunchiness from the Carrots, Daikon and Jalapeno and Cilantro. Our favorite Banh Mi Cold Cut Sandwich by far!
#6 - Banh Mi Trung (Egg Sandwich):
Strangely, on this #6 Egg Sandwich, their Housemade Baguette was soft again. It tasted fresh, but not crisp like the #1 Cold Cuts Sandwich. I’m not sure if this is Ba Le’s style, or perhaps they ran out of their more crisped Baguettes, but the Banh Mi Trung we’ve had at places like Saigon Bakery, Banh Mi My Tho, etc. have all been using the same bread (slightly crisped exterior). (@Ns1 @attran99 @hppzz and others.)
Still, the Egg within was hot, freshly fried and put in, but we would’ve liked the Yolk more runny / Sunny-Side Up style.
One of the most heartbreaking conversations we had with one of these local mom & pop shops was asking the mom (and solo employee on this visit) how business was. Her face became sullen and sad, and she said, “It’s very hard.” It’s difficult to convey in words the look on her face, but just spending a few minutes chatting with her, it was clear how difficult it must’ve been.
When she apologized to us, asking if it was OK to charge us $1 more because the price of Eggs she was getting was more expensive now, we immediately obliged and said, “No problem.” We left a generous tip.
Ba Le Sandwiches (Westminster) is putting out some of the best Banh Mi that we’ve tried in LA and OC, and the owner was selling them at a bargain at $3.68. I can almost hear the cries on our old board now, of people complaining that Banh Mi should be given away Buy 1 Get 1 Free or something like that.
From a previous FTC conversation, as @hppzz @attran99 @Ns1 @JeetKuneBao and others have stated, why should Vietnamese food be deemed “overpriced” if a mom & pop shop dared to charge more than absurdly low prices? The culinary joy we’ve received from a bowl of Ngu Binh’s incredible Bun Bo Hue, or this seemingly simple Banh Mi Sandwich (the #1 + Bi is ridiculous), etc., is so disproportionate to the price charged by these places (e.g., Ngu Binh’s wonderful Spicy Beef Noodle Soup is $8.95, Ba Le’s Sandwiches are $3.68). Will these mom & pop places survive the pandemic with reduced customers at these prices?
I really hope so. We’ll be back to support them as often as we can.
Ba Le Sandwiches
9152 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 891-9424
Mia Juicery (Revisit) - CLOSED
With Cococane being closed during the pandemic (although thanks to the tip from @JeetKuneBao that they are going to re-open late May), we were craving some Sugarcane drinks and decided to stop by another favorite, Mia Juicery.
Sadly they are CLOSED (@JeetKuneBao):
Hopefully they can survive this pandemic and re-open when it’s safer for them.
9084 Edinger Ave.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Tel: (714) 574-0853
Pho Tau Bay L.T.T. (Revisit)
Thankfully Pho Tau Bay LTT is open during the pandemic!
Banh Cuon Dac Biet (Steamed Rice Paper Cake with Meat Inside and Dry Pork Topping):
Pho Tau Bay’s Banh Cuon (Steamed Rice Rolls) have remained our favorite Banh Cuon ever since @Ns1 @PorkyBelly extolled the virtues of this incredible dish (I continue to kick myself for never having tried Pho Tau Bay (or Banh Cuon) for so long!
For the pandemic, Pho Tau Bay has converted their front door into a Takeout window(!), interesting. You just call in your order, show up and tell them your name and they will bring out your food (all while wearing a mask & gloves).
Taking a bite, their Banh Cuon is just as thin, delicate, wonderful as before! I love how refined and supple they are (not overly thick like some Banh Cuon we’ve tried on our previous exploration last year). The Ground Pork, Mushrooms and Onions are just flavor bombs, and then the toppings of Shredded Dry Pork and their Nuoc Cham (Fish Sauce-based Dipping Sauce) brings it all together, not overly sweet, nor overpowering like some restaurants.
So worth the drive!
Pho Tau Bay Ltt
3610 W. 1st Street, #C
Santa Ana, CA 92703
Tel: (714) 531-6634
We can’t wait to revisit Little Saigon soon. During the pandemic, it took us only 35 minutes to get there from the Westside (which is far less time than usual traffic just navigating around and through Santa Monica during normal times).