Archive for 'Vietnamese'

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?

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A Super Early Look at the Food of NongLA Vietnamese Cafe

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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?

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DTLA’s Esaan Thai Gets Me To Eat a Pad Thai Salad!?

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Back in January I was pretty excited to read about a new Thai place Downtown called Esaan: A Taste of Thai.  From the sounds of the Squid Ink article (which I now realize I might have only skimmed) it sounded like Essan would be perfect for Downtown lunchers who didn’t want to make the trek up the 101 to Thai Town.  The name didn’t hurt either.  I’m no expert on the regional cuisines of Thailand but “Esaan” sounds pretty authentic- right?  Inclusion in Saveur’s 24 Hours of Thai Food in L.A. sealed the deal- I needed to check this place out.

Sadly, on my first visit I realized the truth.  There is no mistaking Essan for a real taste of Thailand (or even Thai Town.)  It’s a straight up fast casual sandwich and salad place that transforms Thai (and Vietnamese) dishes into yuppified lunches that would be deemed acceptable by the Downtown L.A. lunch crowd.   Case in point?  The “Pad Thai Salad”, a salad featuring “classic pad thai ingredients” tossed with spaghetti (yes, you read that right.)   It could easily be considered an abomination, except for one thing.  I kind of loved it.

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Every Vietnamese Place Should Serve a “King Way Combo”

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Carson is a bit too far too travel for a weekday lunch, but if I found myself down there over the weekend (maybe on a trip to IKEA?) I’d definitely go to Pho King Way for lunch.  Why?  The King Way Combo.  I’m a big fan of  bun, and they do an everything but the kitchen sink version that leaves you wanting nothing.  Beef, pork, chicken, shrimp *and* egg roll served on top of vermicelli noodles with veggies and fish sauce for $8.95.  Prefer pho?  They do it with the soup too, giving you steak, brisket, flank, fatty brisket, tendon, tripe, and meatballs all for $8.45.  Best Vietnamese food of all time?  Hardly.  And $9 isn’t exactly cheap for the South Bay.  But I love a place that doesn’t force you to choose between all the meats they offer.

Anybody know a place like this a bit closer to home?  The few versions I’ve tried are a bit lacking.

Pho King Way, 940 E. Dominguez St. #A, Carson. 310-327-5464

Spice Table Open For Lunch; Already Serving Best Banh Mi in L.A.

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Last month Spice Table launched for dinner in Little Tokyo to a modest bit of hype.  Opened by a former Mozza sous chef, the Vietnamese/Singaporean inspired restaurant seems to share DNA with current popular new places like A-Frame, Lukshon, Night + Market, and Red Medicine, offering up a high quality, Asian-inspired menu in a hip Downtown environment.  The dinner menu, a smallish affair featuring noodle bowls, satay, vegetables and seafood dishes, was reasonable enough to give me hope that their long awaited lunch menu just might be within the ML price range (aka under $10).  So when Brand X announced on Friday that they had finally opened for lunch, I rushed right over.

And not only was everything under $10, from day one Spice Table is already one of the best lunches in Downtown L.A.

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Westside Bun Battle: Tiato vs. Le Saigon

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A few weeks ago I shared my… uh… unique guide to what I consider a “healthy” lunch in Los Angeles. Because as much of a fatso as I am, there are occasionally days when this “job” catches up with me.  And for those days, I try and eat something “light”.  (Sorry, a side effect of writing about food that isn’t dripping in fat is the overuse of quotation marks.)  I mentioned how much I like Vietnamese bun, and posted a photo of the ok version at Tiato- an Asian’ish lunch spot in Santa Monica.  It’s the kind of place I would never go out of my for, but if I worked in the building (or anywhere in a 5 minute vicinity of Colorado & Stewart) I might eat there once or twice a week.

Lunch’er Jake W. was nice enough to let me know in the comments that Le Saigon (on Santa Monica Blvd. near Barrington) made a much better bun than Tiato.  And since I was feeling a little gross the other day (possibly because of Reddi Check and Greek doughnuts) I decided to put this theory to the test.

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Don’t Believe the Nom Nom/Phamish Hype, Mandoline Grill’s Pork Banh Mi Reigns Supreme

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There’s no doubt that fusion tacos are the most ubiquitous item found on food trucks these days (thanks for that, Kogi!) but if you were forced to pick a runner up, you wouldn’t be wrong to think banh mi. Nom Nom Truck is undoubtedly the most famous, thanks to their nearly undefeated record on the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race, and the Phamish Truck was named one of L.A.’s ten best food trucks by Los Angeles Magazine. On paper Mandoline Grill is an easy pick for 3rd place (they’re vegan friendly and don’t even have pate and Vietnamese cold cuts!?!) and yet their grilled pork banh mi might be the best version from a food truck in the city.

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