They say it takes a thief to catch a thief.
Today, we’re applying that Hitchcockian logic to another vertical: the best Vietnamese food in Southern California.
Our proverbial thief: Chef Shawn Pham, owner of Simbal, a hidden gem in Little Tokyo that serves some of the best Asian cuisine this side of Actual Tokyo. Aside from stints with José Andrés and Tom Colicchio, Pham spent four years studying Vietnamese food in Ho Chi Minh City.
And since moving to L.A., he’s unearthed a bevy of holes-in-the-wall that you’ve almost certainly never heard of — until today.
Breakfast - Le Crossiant Dore
“This is a Little Saigon institution for good reason, their bo kho (beef stew) ranks among the best. Don’t miss out on the cari bo (beef curry) either — get both like I do. Come early in the morning and watch old Vietnamese men drink strong Vietnamese coffee, read the newspaper, and enjoy their beef stew. A special request I always make is to ask for extra beef tendon when I order, in my mind, the dish is incomplete without it.”
Light bite: Pho Tau Bay LTT
“I go here for their banh cuon (stuffed rolled rice noodles), which has a following. This northern Vietnamese specialty is made to order and is light and delicate making it perfect for a light bite. My order is banh cuon dac biet which is the combination with the Vietnamese sausage.”
Lunch: Lien Hue
“Bun bo hue is a dish that originates from Hue which is the ancient capital of Vietnam. It's not found throughout the country and rivals only pho in beef noodle dishes, and for good reason: it’s incredibly flavorful and delicious. They have a wide array of central Vietnamese dishes, which you can try if you’re curious, but I order the bun bo hue dac biet. Taste the broth then squeeze the lime, add the herbs, and stir it all together to see how the flavors and textures come together.”
Snack: Mai Phung
Mai Phung is the noodle soup specialist of Little Saigon. You can’t really go wrong with any of their soups. My favorites are their pho and canh bun which both originate from northern Vietnam.
Sweets: Thach Che Hien Khanh
“Vietnamese people consider what Americans equate as dessert to be snacks, reserving after dinner desserts for fruit. A good place to start is che, you’ll see trays of che lined up behind the display table. Pick whichever ones fancy you. My favorites are che bap (corn) and che chuoi (banana) both of which are doused with sweetened coconut milk.”
9854 Bolsa Ave (map)
Dinner: My Vi Mi Gia
“A few doors down from Thach Che Hien Khanh is this shop, the closest tasting version of mi (egg noodles) in Little Saigon that I’ve found outside of Vietnam. I always order mi dac biet kho (dry) which means the soup is served on the side. I can’t help adding pickled chilies that you can find in jars on the table into my bowl. Eaten alongside the pork liver, they make a great combination. This place even feels like you’re in Vietnam.”
10141 Westminster Avenue # J (map)