We are back home in Orange County for a little R&R. Our first stop was actually In N Out Hamburgers and I will post the photos of my double-double and strawberry shake along with my earnest, earnest love letter to that cherished institution another time — soon. For now, I wanted to post our recent meal at Ngu Binh Restaurant, a local eatery that specializes in Central [& South-Central] Vietnamese dishes. Before ordering and eating there, I can already tell that it’s my kind of place – a no-frills, refined whole-in-the-wall with minimal furnishings, neon lights, laminated menus and a parking lot over-packed with the Worst Drivers Ever in customized Japanese vehicles. At 2pm on a weekday, there was a long line out the door. Once we were seated and throughout our meal, we could see people continuing to line up outside. Inside, the place was brimming with activitiy; the waiters carrying out bowl after steamy bowl of noodle soups. There were only a few waiters – all older males – curt but professional (really, who cares how we’re doing?). You’ll have to go to the hip *fusion* joint down the street for the skanky waitresses with tight pants, eye-liner eyebrows and haughty, tottie attitudes. I feel so much better now that I’ve said that.
We ordred the dishes that they’re known for, the same ones everyone else around us had also ordered — Bún Bò Huế and Mì Quảng [which I pronounce like boon ball way and mee wang]. Bún Bò Huế is perhaps my favorite noodle dish after Pho. It has round udon-like noodles in an earthy, spicy broth topped with sliced pork leg or trotter, sliced beef tendon, chả lụa and cubes of congealed pig blood (huyết ) – mmmm, blood cubes. Mì Quảng is a typical dish you’d find in the cities of Đà Nẵng and Hội An. It’s another noodle dish but it has yellow, tumeric flavored rice noodles in minimal broth – just enough to coat them and topped with shrimp, pork, chả lụa, crushed peanuts and sesame rice crackers. In Hội An, our bowls of Mì Quảng also came with quail eggs and crunchy, little bits of pork crackling but here, it did not. Still, the noodle bowls came with the all the right garnishes – fresh, whole chilis (ot hiem), bean sprouts, thinly sliced banana blossom (my favorite), mint, vietnamese coriander (rau răm), lettuce and lime wedges. I’m not sure if it was because we haven’t had these dishes in so long, but our dishes did not disappoint. The broth for the Bún Bò Huế could have been a little spicier for me, but deep and flavorful nevertheless. The Mì Quảng was just a tad too salty but otherwise, it was delicious with the right amount of shrimp/pork to noodle ratio. Overall, we were more than pleased and hope to be back soon.
Ngu Binh Restaurant
14072 Magnolia St. No. 107
Westminster CA 92683
We also hit Brodard Restaurant for Nem Nướng (pork meatballs rolled in lettuce, herbs and rice paper) and Bánh Xèo (crispy, savory crêpes with pork and shrimp). To me, Brodard seems to be an example where location is not paramount to the success of a restaurant; it’s located in the back corner lot of strip mall behind a dollar store. There was no line out the door but it was busy at lunchtime when we arrived. Our dishes came quickly and overall, they were aaaaight. The rolls were tasty but didn’t seem as fresh – the rice paper was on the stale side (I’m guessing they were made hours before – which would not be cool because it is a restaurant, not a to-go stall). The Bánh Xèo was nice and crispy on the outside and I could detect a strong hint of coconut milk in the batter, which was lovely. Unfortunately, it had maybe 1 piece of meat and 1.5 shrimp in the filling. We were further disappointed with our iced soy milk, which tasted like milky water. I know a lot of folks who are devoted to Brodard and I’m hoping our experience was just a minor fluke.
9892 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844
Also, check out these articles/posts:
Hue Hot Broth from The LA Times
Nem Nướng from Wandering Chopsticks
Saigon Favorites from EatingAsia
I also wanted to mention that my recipes and photos were recently published in a local women’s magazine -Strut Mag. It is the first time my food photographs have been published and I’m very pleased to have worked with their staff, particularly Linda Lacina, the managing editor, who was open to all my ideas and was helpful throughout the process. Here’s a photo of the spread: