Nong La Cafe: the new hotness on Sawtelle?
That’s certainly what it looks like, by the Tsujita-level crowds waiting for a table at the small Vietnamese eatery located right next to…Tsujita. I went a few weeks ago with coworker Han, and both of us ordered the bun bo hue, a traditional Viet rice noodle soup dish. From what I read, it wasn’t a big seller (hard to overcome the perceived Viet staples that are pho and banh mi), but all that changed once LA Weekly’s Squid Ink featured it. Now it’s among their best sellers I believe.
When I first looked at the bowl that was placed in front of me, I wondered if my previous experiences with bun bo hue have failed me, or if I just had a poor recollection. I remember a very dark broth, similar to that of a Chinese beef noodle soup, and containing slices of beef and pig’s feet. But what I had in front of me was more reminiscent of a spicy version of pho (lighter broth, with some chili oil drizzled on top). While the beef was still present, it was accompanied by hand-formed pork meatballs/patties.
Then I remembered: we’re in West LA, not Westminster. No way are they going to get by using fermented shrimp paste and pig’s feet. Anyways, upon first sip of the broth, that familiar lemongrass flavor still hits me good, like I envisioned. Just a bit…cleaner. Cleaner as in not as oily and MSG-ridden, but also with the connotation that it wasn’t as bold as I would’ve liked (due to natural limitations). The rice vermicelli, freshly made in-house, was nice. It’s hard for me to consider this a true bun bo hue, but I did enjoy the bowl in front of me. And that’s all I needed that day to convince me that Nong La was a gift to Viet food seekers in West LA.
Chris Hei grade: B
Nong La Cafe
2055 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025