Andrea Nguyen recently recommended the “fried onion rings” like you use on green bean casserole if you don’t want to mess with shallots. I don’t consider them a problem.
Of Delectable Meatball Sandwiches, Refreshing Cococane, Steaming Beef Noodle Soups, Crunchy & Silky Rice Cakes and Vietnamese Ice Coffee - A Weekend in Little Saigon [Thoughts + Pics]
! Wow, 5 plates of their Banh Cuon? (Well they are that delicious!) Thanks again for the rec!
Just wanted to say that if you went to the Tay Ho next to Asian garden mall, it’s so new because that’s the 4th or 5th remodel of the place.
Pho Tau Bay is so much better though…
Thanks @attran99. Really appreciated all the recommendations you gave us. Is Thanh Son the only fresh Tofu / Soybean specialist in Little Saigon? Just curious.
No, there are a couple different outlets now, I think, but I’m not familiar with the competitors.
Excellent post as always Chowseeker!!!
God, I wish I had your dedication to traveling (b/c I’ve got the eating part down… ).
Nice report @Chowseeker1999!
I’ve been practicing a little Vietnamese cooking, nothing complicated, just the basics and definitely nothing I’m ready to show. Anyway, this thread is an education.
May I ask, what is this in the Bun Bo Hue?
Thanks @JeetKuneBao. It’s thanks to your great Little Saigon adventures that we’re able to find many of these places. Thank you again!
Thank you. That’s great that you’re diving into Vietnamese cooking! I wish I could master some of those dishes (like making homemade Pho one day).
The pic you’re asking about is are the Stewed Pig’s Trotters (most of it was submerged underneath). I hope you get to try Ngu Bin’s Bun Bo Hue one of these says, really one of the best bites we’ve tried in years.
Yep, if I really want to know what I’m cooking I’m going to have to make that trek to Little Saigon to taste the real.
When I was in Vietnam my Vietnam born girlfriend was afraid I’d get sick so she limited me to simple dishes like thin pork chops w/rice and eggs, simple pho and my favorite part of the day - a morning meal of plain banh mi (baguette) with French cheese or butter and ca phe sua (?) (strong coffee w/condensed milk). We had a couple great shellfish dishes, which being a seafood lover was heaven for me. But we definitely didn’t take a walk on the wild side, so…
I’ve had Mai’s Kitchen bookmarked for awhile now, thanks to @JeetKuneBao’s posts on the place. Looking over the menu, it looks like a generalist, with entire sections of the menu for Pho Noodles, Com (Broken Rice), Hu Tieu (Pork Noodle Soup), Bun (Vermicelli) dishes and more.
But at the back of the menu is the section that made us take notice that @JeetKuneBao was talking about, a “Family Dinner” menu, featuring 39 Vietnamese Family Style dishes that aren’t normally found at most L.A. / O.C. restaurants.
Muop Xao Tom (Sauteed Silk Gourd (a.k.a., “Chinese Okra” or Luffa) with Shrimp and Black Pepper):
The idea was fine: Sauteing Silk Gourd with Shrimp and Black Pepper and Cilantro. Unfortunately when we bit into it, we tasted a bad muddy taste. Looking more closely, the Silk Gourd were going bad. We’ve had this at my best friend (from Taipei)'s house before; we’ve eaten it at various Chinese restaurants around the SGV, and it’s never like this. It was inedible.
Canh Chua Ca Huac Tom (Catfish Soup with Tomatoes, Herbs and Mixed Vegetables):
Thankfully their Canh Chua Ca, a generous pot of Catfish Soup (kept hot tableside with a heating element), was a complete 180: A bright, vibrant, tart-savory with a touch of sweetness Fish Soup with Herbs, Tomatoes and Mixed Vegetables thrown in. It was warming and nourishing and delicious!
The Catfish fillets didn’t taste muddy, and the Vegetables and Tomatoes in this Soup were clean and fresh, nothing like the bad Silk Gourd we got in the previous dish. We’d gladly order this again.
Suon Rim (Caramelized Pork Ribs):
Our server describes this to us as Pork Ribs that are sauteed and coated in a Caramelized Sugar seasoning mixture(!). It was on the sweeter side, sort of like the sweetness in a Sweet & Sour dish, but not as gloppy. But there was still some salinity and Black Pepper. The Pork Ribs themselves were tender and tasty, but the Caramelized Sugar component threw me off.
We’ve only just scratched the surface at Mai’s Kitchen’s Vietnamese Family Style menu, but it shows promise. I’m hoping the Silk Gourd was an aberration, and that their quality is reflected in the delicious Canh Chua Ca (Catfish, Tomato & Herb Soup) and in the freshness and tenderness of their Suon Rim (Caramelized Pork Ribs). We’ll be glad to go back and try more of this menu, but we had other places to visit first, on this trip.
9039 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 898-9889
Thuan Thoi Cococane (Revisit)
The Fresh Sugarcane Juice specialist is such a treat for us in So Cal, ever since @JeetKuneBao got me hooked on Cococane, I can’t stop by Little Saigon without a visit!
Original Cococane (Coconut, Sugarcane, Coconut Meat):
It sounds so simple, but Thuan Thoi Cococane’s OG Cococane drink is what we should all be so lucky to enjoy on a searing hot day! Fresh Sugarcane Juice (you can see them grinding stalks of Sugarcane for your order), Coconut Juice and slivers of fresh Coconut Meat combine to make this ridiculously addictive all-natural drink that is so refreshing, lightly tropical, not too sweet and just one of the best drinks you can get to beat the afternoon heat!
Thuan Thoi Cococane
14338 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Tel: (714) 717-8750
Our next stop was Mai Phung, a Noodle specialist that served both types of Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup (Banh Canh Tom Cua and Bun Rieu) that we were discussing on FTC last week.
As @JeetKuneBao mentioned, Mai Phung has a container of fresh Limes and a Housemade Chili Paste at every table.
Phan Cha Gio (Eggrolls (5 Pcs + Vegetables)):
Mai Phung serves up their Cha Gio (Vietnamese Eggrolls) with Pork & Crab, which sounded wonderful. Interestingly, though, as soon as we ordered, the Eggrolls arrived within 1 minute(!) of ordering, so clearly they were made ahead of time.
Thankfully, they were still warm-hot, and still had a very crispy exterior. These were pretty delicious. We’d be happy to order these again.
Banh Canh Tom Cua Thit Heo (Crab, Shrimp and Pork Tapioca Noodle Soup):
I’m definitely a Banh Canh newbie, still learning the differences, but @attran99’s wonderful primer helped us know what to look for (thank you!). It is indeed a thicker, heartier Soup compared to most Vietnamese Soup Noodle offerings we’ve had in the past. The thicker Soup feels like it’s fortified with Corn Starch perhaps(?), which helps to keep this bowl piping hot, keeping the heat trapped with the Crab and Noodles and Soup.
The Crab meat is tasty, but it’s not Live Crab (which would be unrealistic and totally cost-prohibitive), so it’s a bit more oceanic-leaning, but still has that nice Crab meat essence in each slurp.
The Noodles in the Banh Canh are really thick. I think @attran99’s description is apt: It’s like Vietnamese Udon. And like @beefnoguy mentioned, there was a nice meaty, juicy Shiitake Mushroom to help amp up the flavors here.
Bun Rieu (Special Crab, Meatball, Rice Vermicelli Soup):
It had been years since we’ve had Bun Rieu - the other Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup discussed in the FTC thread last week - but it was enlightening to be able to try it back-to-back with Banh Canh Tom Cua. As @attran99 mentions, unlike Banh Canh, Bun Rieu comes with a plate of Herbs & Greens to add in to the Soup:
And Mai Phung also serves their Bun Rieu with an extra side of Fermented Shrimp Paste:
Which adds an extra dank flavor to the Soup. When added all together, Herbs, Greens, Shrimp Paste and the base Bun Rieu Soup, you have this delicious concoction that is much bolder, brinier, funkier than Banh Canh. It’s a totally different animal.
And unlike Banh Canh, Bun Rieu comes with Rice Vermicelli Noodles (instead of the much thicker Udon-style Noodles in Banh Canh). There’s Fried Tofu, cooked down Tomatoes, and the Crab Meat in Mai Phung’s Bun Rieu is encased in blocks of something like a “Fried Crab Tofu”.
This was pretty tasty, and I agree with @Ns1 that I wish there were more of those Crab Tofu pieces in this bowl.
Both the Banh Canh and Bun Rieu cost $10.
Mai Phung Restaurant
8415 Westminster Blvd.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 890-1155
Ha Noi Avenue (The Avenue)
Continuing our Little Saigon excursion, just across the street from Mai Phung is Ha Noi Avenue (or “The Avenue”).
In looking over the menu, we discovered an entire section of Com Mon Dac Biet, which our server explained to us were Vietnamese Family Style dishes(!). They had 25 or so of these dishes, with things like Canh Chua Ca Thi La (Deep Fried Anabas Fish, Sweet & Sour Soup with Dill), Canh Rau Day, Mung Toi, Muop Nau Cua (Spinach Soup with Crab Meat, Sponge Gourd and Herbs), Thit Dong Dua Chua (Jellied Pork with Pickled Mustard Greens) and more.
Canh Dua Chua Nau Suon Heo (Pork Rib Soup w/ Pickled Mustard Greens):
The Pork Rib Soup was piquant-savory, some nice heat from the Chilies, with a nice aromatic backnote from the Cilantro and Green Onions. Unfortunately, the Pork Ribs themselves tasted old / reheated.
But we’re here for something else…
Nem Ran Cua Be (Ha Noi-Style Crab Egg Rolls Served with Vermicelli & Vegetables):
Yes, it looks like Ha Noi Avenue serves up a Hanoi-Style Crab Egg Rolls! And, “yes” that is Crab Roe(!!!) with Crab Meat in this Hanoi-Style Egg Roll! Taking a bite:
Beautiful oceanic creaminess from the Crab Roe and Crab Meat, combined with a shatteringly crisp crunch from the Egg Roll exterior, nicely fried! It is delicious! (@PorkyBelly @J_L @TheCookie and others)
Darn it @Ns1 @attran99 @hppzz @JeetKuneBao why’d you hide this delicious Vietnamese dish from us for so long?! (j/k). I regret not knowing about Vietnamese Crab Egg Rolls until now. But I’m glad we now know.
Our server explained to us that the Vietnamese customers like to eat this 2 ways: Either wrap it with Lettuce & Herbs and dip it in the Fish Sauce & Pickled Radish & Carrot Dipping Sauce, or some like to tear up the Greens & Herbs, add some Rice Vermicelli and pour some of the Fish Sauce & Pickled Radish & Carrots into a bowl and mix it all together and eat it with the Crab Egg Rolls.
A huge thanks again to @JeetKuneBao for the recommendation!
Ha Noi Avenue (The Avenue)
8432 Westminster Blvd.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 898-8838
Banh Mi Cho Cu (Revisit)
A favorite of Das Ubergeek from our old board, our Vietnamese Meatball Sandwich was so good from our last visit, that we had to stop by again to make sure it was consistent. Banh Mi Cho Cu is an old-school Vietnamese Sandwich Shop, with 2 older Vietnamese women who don’t speak much English but will gladly make you a delicious Banh Mi of your choice from the simple menu on the back wall.
Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Meatball Sandwich):
Banh Mi Cho Cu bakes their own Baguettes fresh, multiple times a day, and it’s apparent from the first bite: Light, airy, good crispy-crunch on the exterior. But it’s their Xiu Mai (Meatballs) that really make this Sandwich sing: Just like our previous visit, the Xiu Mai are moist, juicy, tender, meaty. It leans more cloud-like than dense, and it tastes freshly made (that day), not reheated or leftovers like some places. And the seasoning is perfect, lightly porky, savory, a touch of sweetness in the Sauce, and it just combines together to make one of the best Banh Mi we’ve had!
Banh Mi Cho Cu makes our favorite Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Vietnamese Meatball Sandwich) locally. I can see why Das Ubergeek and some of our other veterans on our old board liked it so much. At $3.75, there might be some folks who complain about this price, but it feels very fair, especially considering cost of living, and just how delicious the Sandwich is.
Banh Mi Cho Cu Bakery
14520 Magnolia Street, # B
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 891-3718
Banh Canh Que Em & Que Anh
As we opened the menu, it was indeed as @hppzz had said: Banh Canh Que Em & Que Anh serves over 30(!) different types of Banh Canh Noodle Soup! This seemed encouraging.
Banh Canh Dac Biet (Udon with Fresh Jumbo Prawn, Crab Meat, Fried Squid Paste, Deboned Pork Leg, Shrimp Ball, Fried Fish Paste):
When it arrived, it looked stunning, especially the massive Jumbo Prawn. Sadly, the Jumbo Prawn was overcooked. In addition, this is the first time we’ve had Jumbo Prawns that when you cracked them open, revealed a pitch black digestive tract, spilling out. We’ve seen some unbutterflied frozen Shrimp having this, but in this Jumbo Prawn, you’re expecting it to be like the Live Spot Prawns served at Hong Kong Seafood restaurants, or perhaps an amazing Amaebi, but here, the black digestive tract’s contents were pretty offputting. Cleaning around that, rinsing with some water and cleaning with our napkins, the Prawn meat itself was sweet tasting, but overcooked.
Thankfully the rest of the Banh Canh dish was delicious: As with Mai Phung’s version, the Banh Canh here has a thicker, heartier Soup. You can choose between a Clear Soup or Thick Soup on the menu. We went with “Thick Soup” since our server recommended it.
It’s a mild, lightly savory and there’s a nice brininess from the Crab Meat running throughout the Soup. I liked the Fried Squid Paste, Fried Fish Paste and the Shrimp Ball as well.
Banh Canh Que Em & Que An
14500 Brookhurst St.
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: (714) 418-1600
Quan Bun Co Giao Thao
Down the street from Que Em & Que An is Quan Bun Co Giao Thao, located inside of a Ramada Inn Motel(!). Walking in, it looks like they take over for a night club by day, as the decor has a total cheesy '80’s vibe:
Bun Rieu (Special Crab Cake Soup, Tomatoes, Pork Blood, Diced Tofu and Crab Cakes):
Of the Bun Rieu places we tried on this journey, Quan Bun Co Giao Thao had our favorite version of the Bun Rieu Soup, made from a Pork Bone base. There was a nice oceanic wave here as well, and their Crab Cakes / Tofu blocks were deeply briny (in a good way), funky and the Pork Meatballs were also pretty balanced in terms of spicing.
The only quibble we had was that their Vermicelli Noodles were overcooked and soft, really broken up, so you didn’t really get that much of a bowl of Noodles / slurping experience.
Overall, it was another great trip to Little Saigon, being able to explore and learn a bit more about 2 unique Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soups with Banh Canh Tom Cua and Bun Rieu. Between these 2 styles, I totally agree with @Ns1 that Bun Rieu seems to be more flavorful, but there are still many more places to try.
I’m still craving more refreshing Cococane, want to try more of the Vietnamese Family Style dishes at Mai’s Kitchen, still tasting the moist, tender Pork Meatballs in Banh Mi Cho Cu’s Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Meatball Sandwich), and those Hanoi-Style Crab Meat & Crab Roe Egg Rolls! (Thanks again @JeetKuneBao @Ns1 @attran99 @hppzz @beefnoguy and others for your great suggestions!)
Quan Bun Co Giao Thao
(inside Ramada Inn Motel)
10022 Garden Grove Blvd, Garden Grove, CA 92844
Tel: (714) 595-9917
Next time at Mai’s try the Carmelized Catfish!
I am glad you enjoyed the Canh Chua, the Hanoi style crab egg rolls, and Bun Rieu’s broth
What a great adventure!
My family is from the south, so you just taught me something new with the Ha Noi Crab egg rolls. I’m going to have to get some next I find myself down there.
So glad you enjoyed yourself in your southern journey.
Thanks again @JeetKuneBao! It was thanks to you and your great suggestions. I’ll definitely try the Caramelized Catfish next time. Thanks.
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.
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!)