East Borough’s Lunch Menu is Expensive and Pho-less, But Pretty Great

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If you live or work in Culver City and greeted the news of East Borough’s arrival with a healthy dose of skepticism, you are forgiven.  After all, we’ve been through this before.  Chef with a pedigree, taking on Vietnamese food from a fresh angle, and using quality ingredients are all things we heard back in July when Phorage took over the space left in the hooptie exhaust of Chego’s move to Chinatown. Phorage has turned into a reliable neighborhood option for a decent lunch or take out dinner, but its  food is just a few garnishes short of making it a real destination restaurant, leaving it in the worst purgatory possible- not interesting enough to warrant the prices or the hype, but not authentic enough to keep you from craving that drive down to Westminster.

So the big question is, will East Borough be any different?

First off, it’s worth noting that the lunch and dinner menus at East Borough are completely different… as in, if a friend tells you they loved or hated East Borough, it’s worth asking if they had lunch or dinner.  The dinner menu is where you’ll find all the composed, French Vietnamese dishes that you’d expect from a restaurant that involves a chef like Jason Neroni (from Superba Snack Bar in Venice.)  There’s a beef tartar w/ peanuts and quail egg ($13), baby octopus with thai basil and sweet chili sauce w/ crispy brussel sprouts ($14), and head on blue shrimp with crab paste butter $15).  For the shareable mains you’re looking at lamb ribs w/ tamarind glaze ($15), pork shank with crab paste ($30), and a 6 spice half and whole chicken ($21/$40). And, what will surely be a new Neroni classic- the Phocatini (a pho flavored bucatini w/ oxtail, hoisin, sriracha and thai basil.)

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The lunch menu has far more in common with what you’ll find at Phorage (and the original location of East Borough down in Costa Mesa.)  There isn’t any pho at East Borough, but they do have  spring rolls, imperial rolls, Vermicelli noodle bowls (bun), banh mi, a few salads (naturally), and a couple of composed plates from the dinner menu. There are also three (presumably) lunch size salads, all of which I’d eat- which is saying a lot. Outside of the starters, nothing on the menu is under $11.  So if it offends you to your core to pay more than $5 or even $10 for a banh mi- don’t bother with this place.  It’s not for you.

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I’m not sure who decided that $8 was the Culver City price for an order of 3 imperial rolls, but I don’t like it.  These are very similar to the ones at Phorage and just as tasty, but this is what’s going to push you towards that $20 lunch price. At least they give you a healthy portion of fresh herbs and lettuce.

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While the imperial roll battle between EB and Phorage could be considered a draw, the spring roll battle is no competition. Fried spring roll stuffed inside the nem nuong (pork sausage rolls)?!  EB is the clear winner.  They also do a lemongrass tofu roll that I’m sure vegetarians will be perfectly happy with.

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The fried daikon rice cake with egg is fine, but if I’m going to shell out cash on a starter I’d probably stick with the rolls.

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The banh mi are $11 and $12, and can be stuffed with 6 spice chicken, grilled pork, tofu, or cold cuts (the dac biet.)  The price is outrageous for “banh mi”, but for a Downtown Culver City sandwich made with a fantastic house made country terrine and great bread smeared with a liver pate, the price seems far less crazy.

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Oh, and even there is no proper pho on the menu, they do make this “pho baguette”.  A beef brisket banh mi served with a side of pho broth for French dipping.  It smells like a bowl of pho when they drop it on the table, and the hoisin sriracha aoili is a funny little twist to get those flavors into the dish.  The broth itself won’t replace your favorite bowl of pho anytime soon, but the idea is still genius- and tastes pretty damn good too.

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The vermicelli bowls ($12-14) have a bit too much cucumber and not enough noodles to be a replacement for the Vietnamese bún I love ordering down in Westminister, and there was no sign of the shredded pickled carrots.  But the addition of peanuts and fried shallots is just the flourish that’s missing from Phorage’s vermicelli bowl.  Plus- sugarcane shrimp!?  Nicely done EB.

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They do serve three dishes from the dinner menu on the lunch menu.  There’s the belly & egg ($13) which was as delicious tasting as it looks.  There’s also the salt cod fried rice, which we didn’t try, and…

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…the banh xeo (vietnamese crepe). Early complaints will probably be that it could be bigger and a bit more delicate for $13- but it certainly didn’t taste bad, and since East Borough is still in their soft opening phase it could be an issue that gets worked out. It will likely end up working better as a shared dish at dinner time than a full lunch (or a shared app that pushes your lunch bill up into the $25-30 range.)

This is super early look at a restaurant that will clearly get better, but the early signs are pretty great.  Sure, the lunch menu will likely be hated by those who regularly make the drive to Westminister or the SGV for “authentic” Vietnamese food. And it would be nice if everything were a couple of bucks cheaper, but it’s also downtown Culver City. And if I’m going to spend $20 on lunch, I’d much rather do it at this place then some of the other, mostly garbage, places within walking distance. In a lot of ways this is what I thought Phorage was going to be when it first opened.  And if you hate Phorage, this lunch menu might still be a tough sell.  But if you like Phorage, you will definitely love East Borough.

East Borough, 9810 Washington Blvd. Culver City, 310-596-8266

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