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Jan 19, 2008 06:55 PM

Regional Vietnamese SD

Is San Diego's Vietnamese restaurant scene advanced enough to identify certain restaurants regionally? I was reading in the Oxford Companion to Food book a couple days back of the breakdown of Vietnam into 3 regions and their respective 'culinary capitals.' Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City: North, Central, and southern.

Is SD's vietnamese immigrant base drawn largely from one region? Are certain restaurants known to be specialist in certain regional dishes (outside of Pho)?

Which restaurants to you go and for what dishes?

This may be a question more suited for a town such as westminster but I thought Id try.

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  1. Hanoi style food is very, very hard to find in SoCal. Possible is LA perhaps, but I don't know of any in San Diego. South Vietnamese food is predominate in SoCal due to the particular nature of the diaspora. I have had some Hanoi style in Paris, it was good is all I remember - except for the fact that I had Hanoi soup and my partner had Saigon soup.

    The Hue style is a mystery to me, but I sure would like to find out a bit more about it.

    There used to be a Vietnamese resto on University that specialized in duck. I used to go there back in the 80's but it's long since gone. I miss that place because the duck was first rate. Anybody here know of another place like it?

    1. The best Bun Bo Hue I've had in SD is at Pho Tu Do, which is located in the strip mall next to Buga Korean BBQ on Clairemont Mesa Blvd. It's a decent bowl. Their banh beo (which is something like little patties of steamed rice dough topped with pork fat, dried shrimp bits, and scallions) is also decent.

      1. My favroite Bun Bo Hue is from Mien Trung on Mesa College Blvd, we also enjoy the Banh Bot Loc - think of it as a tapoica flour "dumpling" filled with pork & shrimp, and steamed in a banana leaf. A friend from Hue, informed me that the reason the Banh Bot Loc is so good is because broth is used to create the flour instead of water. We eat there nearly every week.

        Hoai Hue Deli is second - on El Cajon Blvd, under Alcoholics Anonymous and Hung's Tatto Parlor. If anything, a very interesting location.:

        Here's Ed Dibble's post on CH:

        Both places make Banh Bot Loc, Banh Beo, Banh Nam.

        DaNang also makes these specialities, as well as Bun Bo Hue, Bun Mang Vit,, and Bun Rieu. They also make their own Gio Lua, which I think is pretty good, and I have watched people come in just to pruchase that.

        Nhu Y on El Cajon Blvd. serves up stuff like Bun Mam, Bun Cha(okay), etc....

        For good Bun Cha Hanoi - we either go to a very good friend's house in OC, or HaNoi Restaurant in Westminster. Though you can find very mediocre versions on the menu at Nyu Y and Bolsa(which my wife thought was not bad). there's nothing that approaches the combination of well flavored grilled meat balls and sliced pork, and the perfect Nuoc Mam Cham. And now we know how to "eat it right" it is even better.
        Same for Cha Ca - my friend's Mom makes a killer version, HaNoi's is good as well as well as Viendong Restaurant in Garden Grove, which also makes Banh Tom and a soup I enjoy called Bun Gia Cay, called "Northern style Pig's Feet Stew", but I've been told it is actually called Fake Dog Soup.

        As mentioned before I enjoy the Bun Mang Vit, from Chinese Kitchen on University.

        12 Replies
        1. re: KirkK

          Went to Mien Trung for lunch and it's quite good. The thing I liked best about it was the noodles. The thicker noodles used for bun bo hue can be so finicky. If they're slightly over- or undercooked, they'll fall apart and you're stuck plucking 2 inch segments out of the soup. The noodles at Mien Trung were perfect and could be eaten in long strands. Great broth and it wasn't too spicy, which is perfect for me.

          Also, they gave you a nice heap of greens. One annoying thing about many Vietnamese restos in the area is that the greens plate is usually so meager.

          It has its own parking lot, but it's pretty small. If there's no parking there (there were a few open spots when I went, but the lot is awkwardly shaped and kind of annoying to navigate if there's another car moving in it), do what Cathy says and park at K Sandwiches.

          1. re: geekyfoodie

            I went there myself on Tuesday with Kirk. I really dug it. The Banh Bot Loc were incredibly good, though it took eating a couple to get used to the texture. Bun Bo Hue was also outstanding. Will definitely be returning here.

            1. re: Josh

              My boss and I are banh beo afficionados and I remember that Kirk posted a huge plate of it in his Mien Trung Part 2 entry. We were in too much of a hurry to try it this time, but we'll be back. Their shelf of jarred chili sauce and pickled veggies were also very intriguing

              Link to Kirk's Mien Trang, Part 2:

          2. re: KirkK

            After simultaneously reading and salivating over the posts in this thread, I knew I had to check out Mien Trung for myself and take my first step into Hue cuisine. My goal for the visit was to try this new (for me) noodle soup, Bun Bo Hue. The soup, I thought, was just fantastic. Light in body but full of flavor and with a nice, briny character, it was enjoyable just by itself. It had just the right amount of spiciness for me to enjoy it without it becoming distracting.

            As another poster also mentioned, the soup came with a generous plate of vegetables, to which I thought, how is one supposed to use even half of what's on the plate? I put in as much as I could without overfilling the bowl or zapping too much heat from the soup.

            The noodles were a good change of pace from the pho-style noodles, and was a first for me. (They were hard to grab, though, with the plastic chopsticks!) Though thick, they had an incredible overall lightness to them that matched the lightness of the soup.

            The part that just didn't click for me was the protein part of the bowl. None of it did much for me. The hock was flavorless, the ?brisket? was tough with little flavor, as was the gan. The forcemeat was just blah... I was left with the impression that the meats were rushed and could have benefited from a couple of hours more slow cooking at low heat. The blood sausage was the most interesting part, and was a first for me... To me it had the pleasant taste of, and a somewhat similar texture to, that of liver.

            That it was a much more rustic soup than the pho that I am accustomed to wasn't the issue for me A good, rustic soup provides a good change of pace. Lesser cuts of meat properly cooked can be a really nice thing, but when insufficiently cooked any latent potential for taste is simply locked away and lost to the diner.

            So am I missing something here? I know I would have really enjoyed it had it not been for the meats being so tough and understated in flavor - is that part of the Hue style, is it this shop's style, or did I just hit a bad day?

            As for me I'm praying that it's just the latter...

            1. re: cgfan

              I believe that the meat is typically pretty understated, flavor-wise, but it shouldn't be tough. It should be tender and falling off the bone. All of the flavor should be in the broth. Personally, I don't particularly care for the types of meat used in BBH. On my visit, however, the meat was really tender and almost buttery in its softness. Maybe it was an undercooked batch when you went?

              I forgot to add to my above post... the greens plate is great, but I wish they'd add some mint to it. Mint, like basil with pho, really goes well with the BBH broth.

              1. re: cgfan

                Cgfan: I had your comments in mind as I was eating lunch today and I think I'd like to rephrase my reply in terms of texture. It's not supposed to be tough as in hard to chew (hence my description of it being "buttery"), but it IS a bit dry. The meat is bland and almost an afterthought, especially the hock, which has the marrow cooked out of it and is practically gray from being cooked for so long. In the end, it really is all about the broth.

                I also realized that, both times I went, I didn't have blood sausage in my BBH. Did you order the "special large bowl" (dac biet) that has more stuff?

                1. re: geekyfoodie

                  You have to ask for the blood specifically.

                  1. re: Josh

                    You don't have to ask for it specifically, there's a chance you might not get it but most of the time you do (gotten it every time but once and I never ask). The place is ridiculously random when it comes to what they give you in your food. Somedays you'll get the blood, some days you'll get two pig knuckles, somedays you'll even get pig's blood in your snail and tomato soup.

                    My friend and I say its pretty much a lottery going there and figuring out which dishes have pigs blood.

                    1. re: Josh

                      Josh - The reason we didn't get blood was because I asked not to have it.

                    2. re: geekyfoodie

                      I did get the dac biet, so that must be why I got the blood sausage. I didn't have to specifically ask for it.

                      Your description of the hock is right on... The marrow seems to be cooked out of it completely, and what's left on the bone is rather uninteresting. But on top of that the brisket was definitely hard to chew and stingy like Scrooge in giving up any flavor, and the gan was underdone as well.

                      But yes, what a nice broth!

                      1. re: cgfan

                        I have memories of wandering into the kitchen at home and seeing a huge stockpot filled with a reddish broth (after the chili's added) with greyish blobs in it. My parents liked the hock and the brisket (which shouldn't be stringy, by the way), but my mom kept slices of beef or pork for me. Personally, it was always about the broth. I like my BBH broth with beef or pork slices, pho noodles, and lots of fresh cabbage, lime, and mint. Heck, you could eliminate the meat entirely, the broth is that good.

                    3. re: cgfan

                      A couple of things I've noticed...Regarding the vegetables. The soup at Mien Trung is always served piping hot to compensate for the veggies. This is often not the case at other restaurants.
                      As for the Cha Lua, I actually think the version at Mien Trung is rather good. For me the best version of this lean defatted pork sausage is at DaNang Food to go. Which version of Cha Lua do you favor?
                      If you should order Bun Bo Hue at various other similar restaurants in San Diego - Pho Tu Do, and Hoai Hue Deli, you'll notice that the meat, i.e. the thick cut brisket, and especially the tendon is unusually tough. I've found that the pork hock at Hoai Hue Deli is more to my liking. But overall Mien trung wins for soup, noodles, and overall flavor.

                  2. I posted almost simultaneously with Kirk, but his post is so much more detailed that I just erased mine.


                    1. The Mom who cooks in back at Mein Trung is from Hue.

                      It is very authentic.

                      5 Replies
                        1. re: KirkK

                          Thanks, now I know where I'm getting lunch.

                        2. re: Cathy

                          Do you have an address for Mein Trung?

                          1. re: Alice Q

                            It is on Mesa College Drive at the Convoy/Linda Vista name change, basically next to K Sandwiches. If you park in the K sandwich parking lot, you can walk over. It looks like it used to be a taco shop- 8 tables inside.

                            1. re: Alice Q

                              Mien Trung
                              7530 Mesa College Drive
                              San Diego, CA 92111