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Aug 30, 2007 10:25 AM

SD: Need specifics on Vietnamese for tonight

We eat Vietnamese food at least once a week, usually in Mira or Clairemont Mesa. Tonight we'll be joined by two who are new to the cuisine, and we have to eat on or near El Cajon Blvd. I've done my searches but can't narrow down a clear favorite. We've been to Saigon a few times and have been a little less impressed each time, so we won't be going there. Others we have visited in that area didn't leave an impression, so I need your rec for the best.
We want to start the guests with simple things -- pho, grilled meat dishes with broken rice, beef stew. No particularly exotic dishes will be necessary. Also, it will be important that the place make their own Thai tea and not sell you that bottled garbage in a glass (it gives me an instant headache -- what is in that stuff?!?).
Thanks in advance for your recs!

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  1. For people new to the cuisine, I would have said Saigon in that area of town.

    I don't think I would take someone new into one of the holes in the wall for a first time, even though it would be good. Pho Ca Do comes to mind though if not Saigon.(5223 El Cajon Blvd- same owners as the one on Mira Mesa Blvd, not at all same interior or parking situation as that one in Mira Mesa)

    I don't know of any Vietnamese that serves bottled beverages with sweetened condensed milk-they all make it themselves. Then again, I never ordered Thai tea at a VN place.

    You can see many blogged reports on mmm-yoso. Left hand column has Vietnamese broken down in one section.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Cathy

      I don't remember if Pho Ca Do has the beef stew or broken rice dishes, but their menu is very novice friendly with nice explations of the various ingredients in pho and how to request extras of some things. Also, the bun bo hue there is very good as well.

      1. re: Ed Dibble

        They do have broken rice dishes, I know, ed. I remember they charged $1 extra for a fried egg with a pork dish I ordered my first time there...I would assume that means there is also a stew.

        I now remember the menu with explantions. That is good for first timers.

    2. I realize that it may not be in your neck of the woods, but Le Bambou in Del Mar serves outstanding "high-end" Vietnamese food. It's technically more French-Vietnamese, than everyday Vietnamese such as pho. Regardless it's excellent and maybe a little more user friendly to Vietnamese novices. I highly recommend it, especially if you try any of their house specials. Can't comment on their tea though, I usually drink wine.

      4 Replies
      1. re: wanker

        I'm not sure I would call Le Bambou "outstanding." The only "high-end" part is that it's in Del Mar. Their claypot rice was dry and flavorless. The only thing that was good was their Shaking Beef. Everything else was on the Americanized side, although this may appeal to non-adventurous eaters.

        1. re: daantaat

          "everything else" - you tried everything?

          1. re: ibstatguy

            I have not tried "everything else." If my memory serves correctly, I think I was served some kind of chicken broth soup w/ veggies in it which didn't ring of "authentic" to me. I was not impressed enough to go back on my own accord, although if someone else wanted to go, I would not protest. In comparison, Phoung Trang on Convoy and A Dong in Redlands both have the complexity and freshness that Vietnamese cuisine is known for.

        2. re: wanker

          I agree with Wanker. It has a wonderful selection of food at reasonable places in a very serene environment. It's one of our favorites as well as a relative of ours that's a chef/restaurant owner in SF. He really appreciates the freshness and quality of the food.

        3. Pho Hoa is supposed to be pretty good. Too bad you have to be on or near El Cajon Blvd. I've taken many novices to Phuong Trang on Convoy. It's pretty good and "novice-friendly".

          Pho Hoa Restaurant
          4717 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115

          1. Thai tea= Thailand

            Cafe sua da(coffee, sweetened condensed milk, ice) = Vietnamese

            I agree with Cathy I have never ordered thai ice tea at a VN place

            Another great dish is bun bo xao, which is rice vermicelli with sauteed beef and onions with fresh herbs, cucumber, peanuts. It is great for the hot weather we are having.

            9 Replies
            1. re: septocaine_queen

              Almost all the dishes listed under "Bun" on the menu are the ones with the cold noodles and salad on the bottom. I will get the Bun cha ngo- they will put three or four of those lovely spring rolls you would normally get as an appetizer as the topping. If the place serves the tofu skin stuffed with shrimp, I will get that as a topping also, depend on my mood. I have cravings for bun at all times of the year, but it is especially refreshing in this humidity...

              1. re: septocaine_queen

                I realize that Thai tea is Thai by origin, but it is served (and well) by almost every local Vietnamese joint I frequent. We usually take some to go when we leave. Somebody must be able to back me up on this. I make the stuff at home, too, and the tea I buy at Asian markets tastes exactly like what they serve at both Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.
                I hear you both on the "bun" dishes for summer. I crave Vietnamese food constantly when the weather's hot. Even the soups are so refreshing.
                Another question:
                There used to be a higher-end Vietnamese place in Rancho Bernardo or Poway. I was only there 3 times and ordered the same thing: a crepe with fresh, perfectly cooked seafood, and lots of it. The Vietnamese crepes I've had elsewhere don't compare. They also served it with a unique sauce; they told me it had Coco soda in it (which is widely available).
                Do any of the fancier places serve a similar crepe? The appeal was the real seafood (no pre-cooked mix; no krab), but I'd also love to hear if someone knows more about the sauce.

                1. re: maestra

                  Were the crepes crispy or soft. Golden in color? Served with lettuce? Then was it banh xeo? Describe the unique sauce sauce based? or thicker like fermented soy base?

                  No worries regarding thai ice tea...whatever you like is the only thing that matters.

                  1. re: septocaine_queen

                    I believe the Viet place in Rancho Bernardo decided to go vegetarian many years ago, and that was the beginning of the end for it. I never saw many people in there on my way to the excellent Japanese noted or it's sushi restaurant next door, which has taken over most spaces or all of that set of restaurants. It was turned into a couple of other chinese places after. If I recall the prices were too high for veggie food, even if it was higher end. The portions may have been too small in addition.

                    The Japanese restaurant is consistently excellent.

                    1. re: nutrition

                      Actually it was the Chinese place, Formosa, that went Vegan, not Vegetarian. It had plenty of business still, but the proprietor, Julie Cheng, kept such odd hours, it suffered. I knew a group of devotees who were crushed when she decided to close. She said she was going to reopen in Del Mar, but was never heard from again.

                      The Vietnamese place was called Cheu Ahn and was excellent. Unfortunately the owners were from Orange County and between the commute and the rising costs (the rent on that space alone!), they decided to close. It was more of a French influenced place than say Saigon, but the food was still very good, high quality and quite flavorful. Mmm, the best Sugar Cane Shrimp I've ever had.

                      1. re: soulshine

                        Have those owners opened anything in OC?

                        1. re: maestra

                          I don't know, but I sure wish I did. I'd certainly make the trek up that way for food that outstanding.

                    2. re: septocaine_queen

                      It was banh xeo, and it was simply the best I've had anywhere. The sauce was rather similar to nuoc cham (did I spell that right?), but the coco soda made it unique. It was darker, and I don't remember any floating bits of chile or carrot. I never played around with the idea at home, and I suppose I still could. The original flavor is almost lost from my memory, but it would still be fun to experiment.
                      As for the crepe, it wouldn't be terribly difficult to reproduce at home, since the main attraction was the high quality seafood. To me, it would just be one of those that, for all the prep and expense to make at home, is better enjoyed at a restaurant.
                      If you know of a place that has great banh xeo (any fillings), anywhere in our region, I'd love to check it out.

                      1. re: maestra

                        I wish I could tell you, but I usually eat VN food in OC. I like having the variety and the dependable authenticity. There are not many IMHO VN restaurants in north county coastal or SD that I have tried that I liked enough to recommend. But I am open to changing my mind.

                2. T

                  This is a place you described, that you were looking for!!!