Delectable Surprises in Sacramento’s Little Saigon

2010 was the year Sacramento officially designated Stockton Boulevard between Riza Avenue and Fruitridge Road, Little Saigon. And anyone visiting the area should definitely stop by for an authentic bite at one of the scores of Vietnamese restaurants located in the area. We found a real winner in Quan New Ninh Hoa, located at 6450 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95823.

House Special No. 1, at the very top of the menu, is a fun opportunity to roll your own Vietnamese summer rolls. An abundant assortment of tantalizing morsels show up on your table and you get to organize them any way you choose. First pick your protein, which can be Charbroiled skewers of  pork, chicken, shrimp or fried fish. We went with the traditional BBQ pork and were beyond thrilled.

Also on the plates delivered, you will find slim fried egg rolls, angel vermicelli sheets, fermented pork with garlic, assorted greens, pickled radish and carrot salad, green onion, crushed peanuts, a homemade, mildly-sweet dipping sauce and an ingenious rice paper softening system that we wanted to play with all evening.

To start the process, remove a dried rice paper wrapper from the side pocked and gentle dip it into the warm water bath section. The firm rice disk will begin to gently soften while being turned in the half circle mini tub. Be sure to turn at a slow, steady pace. It doesn’t take long and you don’t want to leave the translucent sheet in the water for an extended period. Allow it to soften and become flexible before removal from the water. Place the rice paper on your plate where it will continue to relax just a bit more.

Fill the now pliable wrapper with sheered off pieces of protein, one egg roll, an herb selection, pickled and fresh vegetables. Then roll like a burrito, being sure to turn in and secure the ends prior to the last fold so the filling doesn’t fall out.

Dip you cigar shaped package into the sauce, add a smear of chili paste from the table condiments if a spicy kick is your preferred flavor profile.

Your hard work will pay off when you bite into your crispy, smokey, fresh roll which is a texturally complex flavor bomb of pure pleasure.

Another specialty of the house found on on every table in the restaurant is Banh Beo which on the menu is referred to as Banh Bot Loc La. This well loved rice cake dish is served in small white ceramic cups and topped with bright orange pureed shrimp, green onion, fried shallots and pork floss.

They are eaten by topping with a bit of fish sauce, using your spoon to release the steamed rice from the dish and slurping the entire contents into your mouth for a creamy, crunch, savory, rich bit of umami goodness. These two traditional dishes are great representations and an opportunity to savor a bit of Vietnam right here in Sacramento, California.

Vietnamese Market Opens In The San Gabriel Valley

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Hoa Binh Vietnamese Supermarket, located in Garden Grove, opened a new branch in Rosemead late 2014, bringing a new voice to the Asian markets in the San Gabriel Valley.

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Hard to find items such as sugarcane, fresh rambutan and mangosteen are conveniently available in season.

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Soy bean products, from fresh soy milk to tofu, are on display near the back of the vegetable aisles.

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We were extremely impressed with the fresh and live seafood department which currently carries live tilapia at $4.99 a pound and live catfish at $4.70 a pound.

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Free deep fry service is available and includes cleaning, removal of head and tail, cutting into steaks, if desired, and frying, either regular or extra crispy.

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Fresh seafood on ice shines with bright eyes and shimmery scales.

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The seafood staff spends most of their time preparing fish for customers.

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A pristine meat department is well organized and offers cuts at exceptionally reasonable prices.

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Everything needed for Vietnamese cooking is on hand, from rice paper wrappers to utensils especially designed to make Asian cooking a snap.

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We found lobster and crab crackers and picks, an item that is surprisingly missing from most markets.

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A sale area at the far end of the store offers Vietnamese and other Asian imports at a significant discount, making Hoa Binh one of our new favorite markets.

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Hoa Binh Super Market, 2750 North San Gabriel Boulevard, Rosemead, CA 91770

Killer Banh Mi

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Always on the lookout for the consummate banh mi, Vietnam’s perfect melding of cuisines with the French baguette in sandwich form, we have definitely found a top contender coming out of the tiny kitchen at Banh Mi My Tho.

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The space is minuscule but mighty.  The counter is lined with a selection of dishes to go, if something calls don’t hesitate to grab it.

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A heated case displays egg rolls, pork loaf, fried chicken and pork meat balls threaded onto skewers all reasonably priced under $2.00.

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Stacks of sweets offer a delightful way to complete your meal.

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This family run business established in 1993, offers charming and dedicated service with the intention of making  customers happy and that they do in spades.

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This is a takeout only set up and if you are not going to be eating your banh mi immediately it’s best to have them wrap the vegetables separately to keep the ingredients in their most pristine state.

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We arrived home and cranked up the toaster oven where we heated up the sweet and savory, juicy marinated pork with caramelized edges.  We also toasted the soft yet sturdy French baguette before stuffing it full of the cilantro, cucumber spears, pickled radish and carrot, with the final addition of jalapeño slices for a pop of fresh heat. The resulting sandwich is perfection in our book. Warm toasted bread and tender fragrant pork flecked with roasted peanuts are a sublime contrast to the tang of picked and fresh herbs and vegetables.

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The meat balls are light, gratifying, sweet, porky goodness that also reheat extremely well.

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For one of the best banh mi in the San Gabriel Valley and some seriously memorable Vietnamese dishes for your next picnic, party, event or meal, Banh Mi My Tho is a do not miss Vietnamese hidden treasure.

Banh Mi My Tho, 304 West Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, CA 91803
Phone – 626-289-4160         web site – banhmimytho.com

El Monte’s Vietnamese Soup Bowls

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One of the freshest and healthiest cuisines we’ve found is Vietnamese and from Little Saigon in Orange County to the San Gabriel Valley, little local establishments put out some impressive renditions of the flavor filled dishes.

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Viet Huong in El Monte is one such spot which doles out hot steamy bowls from a simple dining room.

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Our exploration of the menu began with goi cuon tom heo, also known as summer rolls or salad roll.

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These revitalizing rice paper rolls are stuffed with shrimp, lean pork, crisp fried pork, rice noodles, lettuce,and herbs and served with a sweet and savory peanut sauce.

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Cha gio are fried egg rolls of rice noodles, pork, herbs and vegetables that are served with a plate of lettuce and fresh herbs for wrapping the rolls before dipping them into the chili spiked dipping sauce.

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The crisp skins contrast well with the smooth savory filling.

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We love to hit these rolls with a serious dollop of the chili oil found on the table.

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Viet Huong has an extensive list of pho, noodle soups.

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There are the traditional meaty bowls of rare beef,

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or seafood.

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But we were drawn to the bowls we had never tried before, spicy beef stews.

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Bun rieu huyet (above) combines thin rice noodles in a tomato broth then adds shrimp, crab, chicken and  pork blood cubes which are good for those who need some extra iron in their diet. The bun bo hue (pictured below) is a spicy bowl of beef broth with a spagetti noodle, herbs and onions. We swapped out the pigs blood and pork hocks for flank and they were happy to accommodate our request when some ingredients are a bit too exotic for our tastes.

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The resulting spicy, rich and complex broth is highlighted by al dente noodles, herbs and tender chunks of beef.

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We spike the soup with the juice from lime slices, torn up basil leaves and a handful of bean sprouts.

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Exotic traditional Vietnamese coffee and tropical fruit drinks abound.

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Cafe sira da is an iced espresso coffee with condensed milk,

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While a cafe sira nong is a hot Vietnamese coffee that is strong in both it’s coffee kick and alluring sweetness.  Vietnamese coffee drinks are a must try.

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For a journey into the Vietnamese bounty a visit to Viet Huong is a good start.

Viet Huong Restaurant, 10727 Garvey Avenue, El Monte, CA 91733
Phone – 626-454-2590

San Fernando Valley Vietnamese Delights

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We love Little Saigon for Vietnamese food, but sometimes we want something a bit closer to home. Pho 999 in Van Nuys comes through with warm bowls of pho (the national dish of Vietnam) and grilled meats galore.

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The simply designed space fills up at lunch time with hungry patrons slurping away.

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Jasmine tea is a warm start to a comforting Vietnamese repast.

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Goi Cuon are rice paper wrappers stuffed full of shrimp, pork, vegetables and rice noodles.  We dip them in peanut sauce before hitting them with a squirt of chili paste for a flavor packed hand held salad roll. They can also be ordered with shrimp only, sans pork, if that is preferred.

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Pho 999 is famous for their noodle soups and hot steaming bowls loaded with meats of your choice, noodles and greens makes for a healthy and restorative meal.

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We chose #14 with rare steak and well done brisket.

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The savory bowls are enhanced by each customers personal preference, adding fresh lime juice, torn basil leaves, jalapeño slices and crunchy bean sprouts to taste.

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Don’t forget the chili sauces, hoisin, vinegar with chopped green chilies and soy sauce also available to spice up the warm broth.

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Number 49, bun cha goi thit heo nuong, may be difficult to pronounce but it is an extraordinary salad of grilled pork, fried egg rolls, pickled vegetables, green onion and vermicelli rice noodles atop a bed of greens that we toss together with the dressing provided and a nice hit of chili sauce for one of our favorite salad interpretations.

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Pho 999 has two locations, one in Van Nuys and one in Reseda, both scattering excellent Vietnamese takeout dishes all over the San Fernando Valley which makes us feel all warm and cozy inside.

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Pho 999 Vietnamese Restaurant, 6411 Sepulveda Boulevard, Van Nuys, CA 91411
Phone – 818-782-1999            web site – pho999restaurants.com

or

Pho 999 Restaurant, 7255 Reseda Boulevard, Reseda, CA 91335
Phone – 818-705-1899

Delightfully Refreshing Vietnamese Sausage Spring Rolls

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Westminster is home to Little Saigon, a community of Vietnamese businesses and restaurants that bring the flavors, products and services of the South East Asian country to Southern California.

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Establishments often specialize in a particular dish and that is certainly true of Dat Thanh whose claim to fame is their nem nuong cuon thu duc.

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These Vietnamese pork sausage spring rolls are an exciting departure from Chinese egg rolls because they take grilled sausage, fresh cucumber and greens and instead of frying them, wrap the ingredients in a soft yet sturdy rice paper wrapper.

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The warm sausage and cool vegetable packages are then dipped in a sweet peanut sauce or nuoc cham a sweet,spicy and savory dipping sauce commonly served with Vietnamese cuisine. The resulting flavors, temperatures and textures creates a blast of excitement in the mouth.

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Dat Thanh also serves broken rice dishes, which originally were the result of broken rice grains not suitable for sale being used by farmers at home instead of wasting and throwing them away.  Almost always served with juicy grilled meats, these rough edged rice pieces add an exciting texture to the dishes. When Jonesing for down home Vietnamese food we head out to Little Saigon for more variety and options than we could ever eat our way through and we love that about the neighborhood.

Dat Thanh, 10032 Mcfadden Avenue, Westminster, CA 92683                            Phone – 714-650-0910      web site – sites.google.com/site/datthan…

Dreamy Vietnamese Bakery In Echo Park

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Since 1980, Kien Giang Bakery has been putting out some of the cities most diverse and scrumptious baked goods. A Vietnamese/Chinese bakery, they specialize in moon cakes, banh mi sandwiches (on straight from the oven baguettes), birthday and wedding cakes, freshly baked breads, Lunar New Year’s cakes and pastries.

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A sculptural bonsaï welcomes at the front door, a visual predilection of the attention to detail and quality inside the bakery.

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The Mid Autumn or Moon Cake Festival fell on September 27 this year, but we can still pick up the thap cam moon cake and keep celebrating all the amazing moon phases we have seen in 2015.

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The best selling mixed nut mooncakes are filled with cashews, almond, pumpkin seed, sesame seed and candied winter melon. The sweetness from the candied fruit is a perfect juxtaposition to the savory nut and seed meats. And the delicate, glaze topped crust is thin enough to hold the mini cakes in two perfect bites while allowing the filling to be the star of the show.

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The larger moon cakes encase an egg representing the moon, but we find the minis sans egg to be an inspired sweet.

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The walnut butter cookies are crisp, churned-cream laden sweet biscuits dotted with walnut pieces that rival every French butter cookie we’ve tried.

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Ken Giang Bakery embraces the best baked goods from many cultures cuisines including Chinese almond cookies and butterflies, Latin tres leches cakes, French croissants and baguettes, in an homage to the multi-cultured nature of Los Angeles herself.

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The sign in the driveway is from the 1980’s and reflects a time when people actually ordered cakes upon arrival and waited around for them to be baked.  Somehow we ran out of that type of leisure time and now, we are informed, everyone orders cakes way ahead of pickup. For stellar baked goods and sandwiches, a trip to Kien Giang Bakery is a treat no matter how you choose to indulge.

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Kien Giang Bakery, 1471 Echo Park Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90026
Phone – 213-250-0159          web site – kgbakery.com

Oxtail Pho In Koreatown

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We love the Vietnamese noodle soup called pho (pronounced fa) and happily drive down to Little Saigon in Orange county or east, deep into the San Gabriel Valley for a steamy bowl.  But on weeknights, when traffic is hectic, we appreciate something a bit closer to home which is where Pho 2000 comes in.

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The small, basic space puts out a rich, clear, oxtail enhanced noodle pho that takes this traditional Vietnamese staple to the next level of beefiness. Pho is created in a variety of beef incarnations, chicken versions and also seafood but oxtail is rare and something we’ve loved since we were first introduced to the adaptation.

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Pho 2000’s philosophy is clearly spelled out on their menu.  They embrace a dedication to whatever is necessary to recreate this Vietnamese daily standard in its most delicious interpretations.

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But first things first, we enjoy starting our Vietnamese meal with an order of summer roll, the translucent, rice paper wrapped greens, rice noodle, shrimp and crispy pork stuffed bundles that we dip in peanut sauce and hit with a squirt of Sriracha before devouring with abandon.

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When the ox tail pho arrives we are always delighted to see that it comes in two bowls, one small filled with broth and tender strips of oxtail meat.

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And another larger bowl that conceals a big ball of rice noodles under floating white and green onion. We then take the meat from the small bowl and add it to our large bowl, gently continuing the transfer process until all the meat and broth have been consumed.

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Don’t forget to add some of the chili sauce found on the table, along with lots of fresh squeezed lime juice, torn up basil leaves and as many handfuls of bean sprouts as suit your personal taste.

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We adore ox tail pho and eating a bowl of this honorary national dish with any and all of the variety of meats, chicken and fish, brings a smile to our lips and a warmth to our belly that makes the world a better place in our humble opinion.

Pho 2000, 215 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90004
Phone – 323-461-5845

or

Pho 2000 Restaurant, 2897 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone – 213-480-8485

or

Pho 2000, 17801 South Pioneer Boulevard, Artesia, CA 90701
Phone – 562-467-8013

Golden Vietnamese Deli

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One of our favorites is Golden Deli and we would be remiss if we excluded them from a list of great ethnic, off-the-beaten-path restaurants.  Although there is a very well worn path to this front door, thanks in part to Jonathan Gold, who wrote, ” Golden Deli has the best cha gio — fried Vietnamese spring rolls — in the observable universe”

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So we ordered them last night and have to admit the grease slicked, egg rolls stuffed with pork, vegetables and glass noodles are very tasty and this fact along with the Vietnamese style of eating them, sends these babies into the next stratosphere, as the good Mr. Gold points out.

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Served with a plate of greens, the protocol is to grab a lettuce leaf and line it with fresh herbs, cucumber and bean sprouts, followed by the fried bundle and then roll the entire ensemble into a little burrito.  We then dip the warm fried package, nestled in its greens coat, into the fish sauce which we spike with chili oil for an explosion of hot and cold, sweet and spicy, crunchy and soft, parcel of joy.

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We are also huge fans of banh mi, the beloved combining of Vietnamese grilled meats, crisp herbs and vegetables into freshly baked French baguettes. Golden Deli’s version requires two hands to hold, it’s so unwieldy in size and shape.  We opted for the grilled pork with its smokey essence, which is made even more compelling by a smear of mayonnaise, a profusion of cucumber, julienned carrots, cilantro and some smokin’ hot jalapeños.  Are banh mi one of the best sandwiches in the world?  We think so and at $5.00, it’s one of our best investments.

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Moving on we dove into the pho, a rice noodle soup that we had to try two different ways. We started with the pho chin nam, brisket rice noodle soup.

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The soup is accompanied by a plate of bean sprouts, herbs, jalapeños and lime wedges that are added to customers liking.  We always ask for extra lime because we adore the way it sets off the meaty broth. We also add both chili paste and chili oil to give the bowl a little extra oomph.

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We fell in love with the pho ga, chicken broth, tender chicken meat and rice noodle soup. The flavor was pure poultry heaven, which made us sure that someones grandmother must have had a hand in the concocting of this recipe.

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We used our lime, herbs and bean sprouts to enhance this already perfect bowl, I guess you could say we were gilding the Lilly and boy was she impressive.  Bowls of this liquid gold run from 8 to $9.50 depending on your choice of meat and they are large enough to share, but you may not want to.

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It’s a joy to find our favorite old timers continuing to bring the best from their kitchen and based on the wait most nights, we appear to have consensus.  Thank you to Golden Deli for sharing the joys of Vietnamese cuisine and for keeping it real over the long haul.

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Golden Deli, 815 West Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, CA 91776                          Phone – 626-308-0803     web site – goldendelirestaurant.com

or

Golden Deli, 9664 Las Tunas Drive, Temple City, CA 91780
Phone – 626-285-2899

 

 

Westside Banh Mi

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There’s a new Asian spot on the westside that we’ve driven past at least a dozen times without a passing glance. We stopped by today and we’re beyond surprised to find an impressive Vietnamese kitchen lurking inside.

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The menu is an eclectic mix of Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai with tiny nods to Korean and Hawaiian cuisine.

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Seeing the Vietnamese heavy menu we knew we had to ordered the Banh Mi, a difficult to find item outside of Little Saigon in Orange Country. There are some California interpretations being sold in trendy restaurants, but banh mi, reminiscent of what we found in Vietnam, is lacking in West Los Angeles. This unique sandwich is a comingling of French and Vietnamese culture with grilled marinated beef, chicken, ham or pork nuzzling up to pickled vegetables, fish cilantro cucumber and jalapeños, all packed into a soft, mayonnaise slathered french baguette.

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Asian Fusion’s version combines everything we love about the dish. Juicy, tender flavorful pork, grilled crisp at the edges that plays well against the bright, fragrant herbs, the tang of picked radish and carrot, while the jalapeño supplies a kick of heat to the combination. We always request extra vegetables and they were more than happy to accommodate.

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The menu continues with pho, noodle soup and bun, a noodle salad topped with your choice of protein, vegetables and greens all tossed together in a sweet and tangy dressing,

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There are also Chinese dishes and anyone bringing a new Chinese voice to a westside kitchen is appreciated.

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Lunch specials are available for $7.50 to $8.95.

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For a very respectable and tasty banh mi sandwich, Asian Fusion brings the flavors of Vietnam to the westside of Los Angeles, saving those of us on this end of town a long drive down to Little Saigon and for that we are grateful.

Asian Fusion, 1710 S Robertson Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90035                   Phone – 424-298-8247       web site – asianfusionla.com