The rising food scene in Little Saigon in Orange County, Calif., has attracted the attention of connoisseurs and curiosity of foodies around the world. Even folks who travel to the area from Vietnam ask where to have the best bowl of pho or how to order staples that are not on menus.
Though Vietnamese street food such as pho, banh-mi and goi-cuon has entered the mainstream, the high culture of Vietnamese cuisine is still being kept in secret. Think royal family and how food was prepared for them.
That said, here are a few suggestion for outsiders and food enthusiasts who travel to Little Saigon for the first time.
With a menu of more than 100 traditional dishes, this place is known for its BBQ spring roll’s secret sauce. Many have tried to replicate the sauce’s recipe, but none have come close to the sauce’s flavorful texture. Don’t order and eat too much at this restaurant, though. Save some room for the tour.
Pho Kim Quy/Pho Hoa Soan/Pho Tuan Canh
When it comes to pho, everybody has an opinion about it. The truth is, Vietnam has three distinctive regions: North, Central and South. Though pho originated in the North, each region has its own pho flavor and taste. And many of them.
But having a huge choice of pho restaurants might not be a good thing. You just don’t know which to choose. So here are a few that the locals recommend. Kim Quy for the beef pho, Tuan Canh for chicken pho and Hoa Soan for both.
In terms of how to eat pho, forget it. It’s street food; eat it the way you enjoy it the most. But don’t get burned. Taste it first and add whatever condiments you prefer. One way to judge a bowl of pho is by the broth. It must be clear, aromatic, flavorful and rich, and the meat must be tender and crunchy at the same time.
Central Vietnam Cuisine: Quan Hy, Huong Giang, Hue Oi
Vietnamese food with the most detailed attention goes to Central Vietnam. Known for its bun bo hue (spicy beef noodle soup), Hue is one of many cities that represents Central Vietnam. There’s mi quang, banh beo, banh nam, tre, nem, along with a plethora of street food and a variety of savory rice cakes.
Dessert and drinks: Che Hien Khanh, Sweet Cup, 7 Leaves, The Loops
Last but not least, Little Saigon gathers the desserts and sweets from all three regions of Vietnam — and beyond. In addition to the traditional Vietnamese desserts such as che or banh ngot, the second generation of Vietnamese Americans have adapted their American sweet teeth to suit Vietnamese flavors. They took ice-cream and put it in a taco shell like the offerings at Sweet Cup, or elevated churros to the next level like those at The Loops. As for drinks, 7 Leaves gives new meaning to boba teas and sweet drinks.
This is not an extensive list of all the favorite food in Little Saigon. The food scene is changing continuously with adaptive tastes from the home land of Vietnam and other countries around the world. So don’t be afraid to explore and be adventurous next time you come to this food haven for Vietnamese diaspora called Little Saigon in Central Orange County, Calif.”
9892 Westminster Ave. #R, Garden Grove, Calif.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Tuesday
Phone: (714) 530-1744
Pho Kim Quy
11035 Warner Ave, Fountain Valley, Calif.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Wednesday
Phone: (714) 775-1699
Pho Hoa Soan
12111 Brookhurst St., Suite D, Garden Grove, Calif.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Wednesday
Phone: (714) 638-4886
Pho Tuan Canh
9735 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, Calif.
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Phone: (714) 622-8922.
9727 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, Calif.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Phone: (714) 775-7179
14564 Brookhurst St., Westminster, Calif.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Phone: (714) 531-4930
16537 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, Calif.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Tuesday
Phone: (714) 531-1305
Che Hien Khanh
9784 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, Calif.
Open: 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., weekdays; 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturdas and Sunday
Phone: (714) 537-5105
9930 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, Calif.
Open: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Phone: (714) 300-4607
7 Leaves Cafe
9786 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, Calif.
Open: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
Phone: (714) 590-2790
9729 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, Calif.
Open: Noon to 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; noon to midnight, Friday and Saturday
Phone: (714) 713-8570
$: All menu items less than $10