Coming to the realization that there is and will never be decent Vietnamese food without traveling to Westminster or SGV is an exercise that can bear some resemblance to the 7 stages of grief. ”There must be some place that does it well?” “This place really doesn’t do it well.” ”Why the fuck can’t they do it well!?” “This is never going to happen, is it? Time to get in the car and spend more on gas than I will on the banh mi I’m going to order when I get to where I’m going.” The problem is I only ever make it to stage 4. It makes sense that there is no decent Chinese food on the west side, after all it’s tough to wean a person off of chicken lo mein and beef with broccoli. (I should know, even though I love the SGV I’m not completely cured of my General Tso’s addiction.) But Vietnamese food? That seems tailor made for chicken loving, health food eating Angelenos. Pho is like a less fatty version of ramen, right? Bun is just a glorified salad, with grilled meats. And banh mi. Who doesn’t like banh mi?
And yet most of the Vietnamese places in L.A. proper and parts west give the distinct impression that the owners spent more time thinking of stupid restaurant names than they did on the menu. So when I heard that NongLA was opening on Sawtelle, I had mixed emotions. Could this be the upward turn that leads us to the promise land?