Golden Deli

I went over to Danno’s house to watch football after my basketball game and brunch at BJ’s last week. After the 1pm games ended, we decided to get an early dinner at Golden Deli, probably the most famous Vietnamese restaurant in LA County, assuming that they wouldn’t be busy at the time. Sure enough, they were packed, but we only had to wait a few minutes for a table for four.

I’ve been to Golden Deli many times in the past, but this was my first visit of 2011, because they’re always so busy due to the hype, and that they aren’t necessarily head-and-shoulders above the other Vietnamese restaurants in the SGV. Ben and Larry both ordered pho, and Danno ordered a rice dish. I ordered the bun thit nuong, which is vermicelli with charboiled pork. Solid, but nothing spectacular. I also ordered the cha gio, which are fried Vietnamese spring rolls. I forgot to take a photo of this, but it easily bested the bun thit nuong. If Golden Deli wasn’t always so busy, then I would be more inclined to visit, if just for the spring rolls.

Bun Thit Nuong

Chris Hei grade: B

Golden Deli Vietnamese Restaurant
815 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 308-0803

Golden Deli on Urbanspoon

Banh Mi Che Cali

10/2/11

Another place in the SGV I used to frequent quite often, but haven’t done so in a while. My friends and I used to go to the Banh Mi Che Cali in Alhambra all the time, where they served good Vietnamese good at great prices. I really don’t know why we haven’t been back in such a long time (maybe because we used to go so much), but Danno suggested it last Sunday because he needed to go grocery shopping in Rosemead and said that there was another location of Banh Mi Che Cali nearby.

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This location in Rosemead is a little different than the Alhambra one, where you order everything at the counter to-go and there are some tables available for you to eat there if you want (as opposed to actually dining in). Also, the selection seemed to differ a little. Consider this one a (even more) casual to-go spin-off of the Alhambra location. I usually get a vermicelli or another noodle/rice dish, but since we were ordering to-go I decided to order some banh mi. Banh mi is seriously one of the greatest value foods of all time. I got 3 footlong-sized banh mi for less than $7. That’s 2 meals right there. And the banh mi at Banh Mi Che Cali is made very well. The baguette has a nice combination of chewiness and crunchiness, and the cold cut meats and pate tasted good as well. I should just buy a dozen of them next time I’m in the SGV and eat those throughout the week.

Chris Hei grade: B

Banh Mi & Che Cali
8450 Valley Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 288-5600

Banh Mi & Che Cali on Urbanspoon

Le Saigon

9/16/11Finally, a decent Vietnamese recommendation by Mr. TTH, let alone a decent recommendation period. I remember first coming to Le Saigon when it first opened a while back, although I don’t remember my experience there. For some reason, even though I’m sure my experience wasn’t a bad one, I had never thought to return all these years. Instead, I was forced to go to terrible West LA Vietnamese places like Pho Citi. So now that I live a few blocks away, can Le Saigon fill the void of a good Vietnamese restaurant in West LA?

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Pho Saigon Dac Biet ($8) – rice noodle soup with well-cooked and rare beef

I ordered the standard #1 at Le Saigon, which is the pho with rare and well-cooked beef. First of all, the broth was better than my recent trips to other Vietnamese places. There was actually flavor! The rare beef looked like it was cut while the meat was frozen, but I did appreciate it being rare when served. While the pho was satisfying, I still wasn’t too impressed. I consider pho one of those dishes that is easy to make, but hard to master. And in this case, the pho at Le Saigon was just a solid bowl of pho. But to answer my question from earlier, I do believe that there is finally a decent Vietnamese restaurant I can go to without driving to the SGV or Westminster. And it’s withing walking distance! Note to self: cash only.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Le Saigon
11611 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 312-2929

Le Saigon on Urbanspoon

Pho To Chau

Photo credit: Janet O. on Yelp

Another Justin Ko pho restaurant pick, another C grade. For all the TTHing (TTH = trying too hard) involved in his life, the man known to us as Mr. TTH certainly is anything but in terms of his preference for flavor development in his pho broths (remember Pho Western?). But I knew nothing of the restaurants in Mountain View, so of course I had no problem going along with the choice.

Compared to Pho Western, the pho at Pho To Chau at least actually tastes like pho. It’s just too light in flavor in my opinion. I initially wanted to give this place a B- (which is what I said I would grade it when discussing it with Linh-Nam). However, in the end I couldn’t justify categorizing the restaurant as a solid choice. I’ll take this over Koreatown pho any day, but next time I want pho in the Bay Area I’ll go with the resident Viet Paul Nguyen. Don’t be sad though, Mr. TTH – I still take pleasure in finishing my dinner while you finish your second bite next to me.

Chris Hei grade: C

Pho To Chau
853 Villa St
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 961-8069

Newport Seafood (2)

7/15/11

For Ben’s birthday last Friday, we decided to go to Newport Seafood (my first follow-up review!). I was very happy with the choice, as the restaurant received an A from me last month. But I was a little worried for two reasons: 1) I was afraid that there might be a letdown from me hyping up the place so much, and 2) we had a party of sixteen at 8pm on a Friday night, at a place that doesn’t take reservations. We probably waited outside for around half an hour, and during that time a waiter brought out some menus so we can place the order ahead of time, and the food can come out shortly after we get seated. The entire group placed their trust in me to choose what to get – so much pressure! Since we were being divided up into two tables, I decided to get seven dishes x2.

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Clam with Spicy Hot Sauce

Like I said in my post last month, the clams are one of three dishes I’ve ordered at every one of my visits to Newport. As good as always.

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Ong Choy

I believe this is ching gang tsai (I think that’s the correct pinyin – don’t know if there’s an English name for that). We had to get a veggie dish, and the waiter gave me a rundown of which ones were fresh for the night. Eugenia heard the ching gang tsai and wanted it, so we obliged. Simple and effectively sauteed with garlic. UPDATE: Allison pointed out that the veggie is ong choy, or should be. I’ll have to agree with her on this one. Thanks Al!

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Squid Newport Style

The waiter, probably feeling my enthusiasm as I was ordering, was trying to bait me into ordering the geoduck. While I myself would’ve done it, I didn’t know if the others were open to eating it, or if they were willing to fork over the amount of money. So the waiter suggested a squid dish in their Newport sauce, which is not on the menu – it’s actually for the geoduck (elephant clam on their menu). Not as good as the geoduck would’ve been in the sauce, but still very good.

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Newport Special Lobster

I believe we got a five-pound lobster for each table. After much deliberation, I think the lobster is arguably my favorite dish of the year so far. And everyone followed my advice regarding using the sauce and bits in the rice – we left nothing on the plate!

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Beef Loc Lac (French Style)

Another cornerstone of the restaurant. The plate was empty after one complete rotation on the lazy susan. Enough said.

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House Special Seatrout Whole Fish

I’ve had this dish a few times, and it’s just another example of the restaurant’s expertise on seafood. I would’ve used some more of the sweet and sour sauce on the rice, but it was full of the lobster goodness.

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Deep Fried Tofu

Despite it being just fried tofu, I thought that this was done very well. The batter was thin, but still provided a good crunch. And it seemed like soft tofu was used (it was more silky than the usual fried tofu, which uses firm tofu). I love tofu, and I can eat this and never get bored of it.

So I think that this visit solidified the A that I gave Newport Seafood on my visit last month. I really hoped that everyone else felt the same way. At least we left nothing to take home on both tables. And the staff was very upbeat (and un-Asian) in their enthusiastic happy birthday singing (we ended up singing twice more for other tables after Ben’s celebration). Expect more posts for Newport before the year is over – it’s that good.

Chris Hei grade: A

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Happy birthday Ben!

Newport Tan Cang Seafood Restaurant
518 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 289-5998

Newport Seafood

Finally, the Chris Hei has returned to Newport Seafood! It’s been about two years since I last went (I believe it was after my graduation), and I had been dreaming about their food, particular their famous lobster, in these last two years. I believe my mom had actually went a few times since my last visit, but she was being a negligent and selfish mother in not inviting me. But to celebrate father’s day with my grandpa, she made the smart decision for us to go to Newport instead of the Shanghai restaurants we usually frequent. Thank goodness!

Newport Seafood is an extremely popular Chinese-cum-Vietnamese seafood restaurant that is located on Las Tunas Dr., at what used to be a Marie Calendar’s (you can see the famed a-frame structure still, though they’ve done a good job making the place look fairly Chinese). I used to go a lot when they were in the plaza a few blocks away from their current location, the same one as Golden Deli. But Newport and I had fallen apart in recent years. Not because of the food – it has always been excellent. I guess it’s like when you and your friends go to separate colleges. You swear that you’re going to stay in touch, but eventually you just drift apart from each other. That doesn’t excuse from the crime I’ve committed in not returning though. However, I was determined to make up for lost time on this visit.

Elephant Clam Sashimi 2 Style (seasonal price – $80) – This is what I meant when I said that we were determined to make up for lost time. Besides the lobster, this is the other dish that the ballers order when they’re at Newport. The first style of elephant clam (geoduck) is thin slices of it that can either be sauteed, sashimi or steamed. The second style is the meat inside of the shell (not sure, but I know it’s from a different part of geoduck as opposed to the first style, which is from the siphon I believe) either fried or in a soup. We chose the sashimi and fried styles (latter not pictured). The sashimi slices were really fresh and had a nice crunch, and I can just eat the fried balls and not get bored of it. An awesome twosome.

Clam with Spicy Hot Sauce ($11) – The clams weren’t really all that spicy. Most of the heat came from these green chiles that weren’t very spicy, but gave it a nice kick. There were also plenty of basil, garlic and ginger in the sauce. Very straightforward, just a well-executed dish that was full of ocean clammy flavors. This dish, along with the beef and lobster, are the dishes I’ve had every time I’ve been here (at both locations). The clams were pretty big, too. I would like to note that all of the seafood at Newport is of very good quality and extremely fresh. Really can’t go wrong with any of these seafood dishes.

Newport Special Lobster (seasonal price – $80) – This is the dish everyone HAS to get here. No joke, every table at the restaurant had an order. The five of us got a medium sized one (5 lbs., so I believe the market price was $16/lb.), and we demolished the plate (see the last photo). We even finished the garlic, scallions, etc. on the plate with multiple bowls of white rice. I’m not exactly sure how the lobster is prepared (and the restaurant holds the recipe pretty close to the chest), but there’s a lot of garlic, pepper, scallions, and lobster roe (yum). And I’ve always speculated that there could be some fish sauce and even butter in this dish (amongst other drugs that get you hooked), but don’t quote me on that. This, in my opinion, is one of the best dishes I’ve had in L.A.

The other dishes we order that I didn’t get a chance to photograph due to being busy eating are the Beef Loc Lac French Style ($12) and a string bean dish that isn’t on the menu (they just asked if we wanted a veggie dish, and my grandpa was feelin’ string beans). The beef dish is up there with the lobster and the geoduck – cubes of filet mignon in a pepper sauce with a hint of what I believe was butter. There’s a reason we order this every time. As for the string beans, they were kind of a letdown, especially being served last after the plethora of delicious food before it. It wasn’t bad, but way too salty though, and nothing special.

I really didn’t want to do this, but Newport has left me with no choice. I had wanted to save the elusive “A” grade for something breathtaking, and expected to experience that at a fine dining institution (how snobby of me). But that was exactly what Newport was able to accomplish on our visit this time. No wonder why it has continued to be packed at all hours of operations (we went before 5pm and there was still a full house), and deservingly so. I vow to make more frequent visits here, as long as the quality of the food is upheld. And after all these years, there are no signs of said quality decreasing.

Chris Hei grade: A

Newport Tan Cang Seafood Restaurant
518 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 289-5998

Note: credit EileenLikesToEat on Flickr for the first photo.

Vietnam House

Came here last Saturday with Ben and Daniel for dinner #1 (I was supposed to have dinner again with Christina and Jolene later that night). Our original destination was Golden Deli, but there was a long wait. So Daniel, being the Viet that he is, suggested an alternative: Vietnam House, located in the plaza diagonally across the plaza with Golden Deli. I’ve never even heard of the restaurant, so I had my reservations.

Vietnam House’s menu is probably the most Vietnamese-authentic I’ve ever seen (I haven’t been to any Vietnamese restaurants in Westminster). I really, really wanted to try the seven courses of beef. But since I was going to eat again later, I decided to just order the thin vermicelli with pork and egg rolls. Ben got the same, but he thought he was getting the bowl of vermicelli. Daniel got a broken rice dish. Even though I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to explore the cuisine further (since our dishes were fairly normal), I thought my dish was good. And it came with A LOT of lettuce, basil, cucumbers, etc. It was certainly nice to taste authentic Vietnamese food after the disaster at Pho Western, and I want to try the seven courses of beef next time.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Vietnam House
710 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 282-3630

Note: I came across this post by famed food blogger Gastronomer. Interesting “rivalry” between this place and nearby Vietnam Restaurant.

Pho Western

I normally would never eat pho anywhere west of Downtown, but we wanted to go somewhere easy and filling after watching X-Men: First Class, and the only person who voiced an opinion about where to go was Mr. TTH himself Justin. And apparently he loves Pho Western. This guy even went by himself one night recently (and he lives near Santa Monica). The only thing I love about Pho Western is the fact that it’s open 24 hours, but so is Pho Citi, and I hate that place with a passion.

In high school, I used to visit these 24 hour, Korean pho places every so often, because of the proximity (I lived near Koreatown) and the hours of operation. They’re cheap, decent places. But to call the bowls these places serve pho is another story. The broth is basically a beef or chicken stock of sorts with maybe a tablespoon of fish sauce at the most. Basically a glorified wonton noodle soup in my opinion. The slices of beef were less than satisfactory, overcooked as well, which means that this is the only time I’ll actually use plum sauce for pho (I usually like to eat it au naturel). However, if I was nearby and not feeling too well, going to Pho Western wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Chris Hei grade: C

Pho Western
425 S Western Ave, Ste A
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 387-9100

Note: credit Ellen C. of Yelp for the first photo.