Ha Tien Quan
529 E Valley Blvd, Ste 178A
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Despite domination of the San Gabriel Valley by the Chinese (at least from a culinary perspective), there is no shortage of Vietnamese restaurants in the area. You can most likely satisfy your cravings for pho, banh mi, or bun on just about every block of a major street. However, at Ha Tien Quan, a new-ish Vietnamese restaurant that opened on Valley Blvd in San Gabriel a few months ago, you won’t find any of those standard dishes. Instead, you’ll have to “settle” for dishes such as bun mam, an anchovy-based noodle soup with fish, shrimp, pork belly, and eggplant, and hu tieu nai sa-te, a lemongrass chili-based one with slices of deer. I doubt most people in LA, outside of regional Vietnamese households (Ha Tien is a city located in the southwest part of Vietnam, bordering Cambodia), have had these dishes.
So how did I hear of this restaurant, one with minimal critical and online presence? Well, there were a couple of places where Ha Tien Quan was featured, and they’re two very influential ones: LA Weekly, which featured the restaurant in a blog post before naming it one of their 99 Essential Restaurants of 2013, and the Gastronomer, who is one of the most respected food bloggers in LA and my go-to source for all foods Vietnamese. But all that this has resulted in are a dozen or so Yelp reviews and exactly zero reports from other publications/blogs; not that the restaurant is hurting for them though – we arrived on a Saturday night to a lively room, one that wasn’t completely full, but full of apparent regulars of the place who are friendly with the owner.
Although I felt a bit out of place (had the ambiance of a Vietnamese family gathering, one I was essentially crashing), I enjoyed my meal at Ha Tien Quan. I ordered the bun mam (which I described earlier), and it’s quite a genius bowl, combining both savory and sweet flavors, topped off by a briny effect from the anchovy broth that’s fantastically funky. It’s something I can get down to – or with, rather. The herbs and veggies that came on the side were also quite unique. We also split an order of banh khot, which are mini pan-fried rice cakes you eat with lettuce, herbs, and fish sauce (similar to banh xeo, which is more familiar to us novice diners of Vietnamese cuisine). The rice cakes are both airy and crispy, and even more delicious with all the accompaniments.
I look forward to my future visits to Ha Tien Quan and discovering new dishes to expand my Vietnamese palate repertoire. I might even be interested in trying the vegetarian versions of their dishes, which they serve (and those alone) only on every quarter and three-quarter moon days, in accordance to Buddhist traditions – check your lunar calendars.