HOME > Chowhound > Los Angeles Area >


Explorations on Brookhurst: Xanh, Fountain Valley

Little Saigon is a place incredibly rich in food that's simply not available in many other places. You're not going to find bo bay mon (7 courses of beef) in, say, Omaha. You won't have enough competition to be able to buy a sandwich for $1.75 in Boise. The flavours that come out of Little Saigon are some of my favourites -- Vietnamese is a beguiling cuisine.

What Little Saigon is short on is atmosphere. Your typical eatery on Brookhurst is a place where you sit down, are handed a functional menu, and expected to know what you want in five seconds while the waiter taps his pencil. Tables are usually Formica-topped, with the same carousel of sauces shoved over next to the napkin dispenser and the forest of cheap plastic chopsticks with ugly dragon prints on them. Food is sometimes deposited willy-nilly on the table for you to figure out and distribute (we call this "drive-by pho"), and when you're done, you're expected to go to the counter and pay.

There aren't very many "upscale" Viet restaurants in Little Saigon. I say "upscale" with inverted commas (which will probably get changed into double apostrophes) because there are no temples of Vietnamese gastronomy. There's Quan Hy, there's Brodard Chateau, and there's S Vietnamese Cuisine. None of these places are dress-up nice; they're just places with better service, some attempt at decor, and higher prices.

Xanh fits well into the upper echelon of these "upscale" places. It's not pretentious (hard to be stuck up when you're in the back corner of a strip mall featuring an Albertsons), but it is much, much nicer than your typical Brookhurst restaurant.

I met kingkong5 and two of my friends from UCLA who live in South OC to check it out.

While we gathered, I ordered a banana blossom salad (goi hoa chuoi, $7.95) for us to share. Banana blossoms are very astringent, so I was looking forward to seeing how the salad came out. What came out was a tangle of shredded magenta blossom, herbs, peanuts, and some poached shrimp cut in half. We had ordered it with no pork, since we're all Catholic and today is Friday. It was one of those dishes that makes me glad I learned long ago to eat with chopsticks -- trying to eat that with a fork would have been very challenging. The salad was very refreshing -- not at all astringent, though one of our dining companions added some nuoc cham to it to cut the sourness of the lime juice. When chef Haley Nguyen came over after dinner to see how we liked the food, I asked about the lack of astringency. She told us that she soaks the blossom shreds in lime water for quite a long time.

Dinner, which was served family-style, was a riot of different flavours. I don't remember who ordered what, but we ended up with kabocha squash and shrimp soup (canh bi ro tom, $8.75), seared white fish with green mango (ca chien xoai xanh, $13.95), fish in caramel sauce (ca kho to, $12.95), and lemongrass tofu (dau hu xa, $5.95).

The soup was thicker than most "canh" (broth-type soups) and was very, very earthy. I wish the kabocha had been just a little firmer, but that's me -- and the fact that it wasn't lent body to the soup, so I can't have it both ways, I suppose.

The seared white fish I loved. I love seared fish, especially when it's seared properly. You get that kind of "crust" on the side that's been seared and it's soft and flaky in the centre -- the fish was cooked just like a perfectly-seared scallop. It was set atop green mango (which was more like half-ripe mango in texture) and topped with fried onion strings. I didn't care about the onion strings, though they added a nice texture, but the mango and fish together was a real winner.

I'm a sucker for kho. It's part of those sweet-salty combinations that sound to American ears like they should be wrong... turkey in chocolate sauce (that's mole de guajolote to Chowhounds), chocolate with almonds and salt, and fish stewed in caramel sauce. You tell an American "caramel sauce" and he or she thinks ice cream topping... but this is a thinner sauce, meant to give beef (bo kho) or fish (ca kho) a rich flavour. The sauce was delicious -- chef Nguyen certainly is able to contain some of the more objectionable qualities (the caramel is very often cooked until it's bitter, but not at all in this case), but I think that I'd prefer it with a stronger-flavoured meat. The fish was well-cooked but all I tasted was the sauce.

The tofu was fried in long strips and tossed with soy (and, I assume, fish) sauce and lemongrass. It was very well-executed but was not as exciting as the other dishes. I'd order it again but I wouldn't go here for it. It was somewhat of the poor stepchild of our dinner order -- we didn't know it would be family-style when we started, so two of us tried to order the ca kho to. When we learned of the service style, I dropped the fish and went to the tofu.

After dinner, we ordered dessert. One coconut creme brulee ($5.95), one sponge cake with berries ($4.95) and one trio dessert -- chocolate souffle, ginger ice cream and lemongrass hot tea ($6.95). The sponge cake was quite good and moist, but I don't know if I'd order it again. The souffle was much better, though the hot tea felt a little like an afterthought -- the ginger ice cream, though, was incredible. The winner in the desserts was the creme brulee -- definitely tasted of coconut and was creamy and sweet without being cloying or, God forbid, gritty.

Xanh does not have a license, so liquor is strictly BYOB. We drank hot lemongrass tea (included), hibiscus tea (like a less-sweetened jamaica, $2.95) and soy milk with toasted rice ($2.95). They're trying to get one, but this always takes time.

Service was friendly, and I mean friendly by any standard, not friendly by Little Saigon standards. ("Friendly" service in Little Saigon usually means they're not throwing the food at you as they run past.) It's a smallish place, though with probably 40 seats. When we arrived a little before 7, the place was nearly empty, but by the time we left at 8:30, it was much more active.

This is a place I feel should be encouraged... a nice Vietnamese family-style restaurant, with good decor and good service, for what are still very reasonable prices (though, again, by Little Saigon standards, this is heinously expensive). You can bring a date to Xanh, where you really couldn't bring a first date to, say, Com Tam Thuan Kieu or Pho Thanh Lich. It's a family-friendly place (they have high chairs, it's not some museum-like hush), and the food is genuinely good -- and it fits a niche, because there aren't so many places for family-style dining in Little Saigon.

I intend to go back... and not on a Friday next time, because there were beef and chicken dishes I was aching to try. When I'm aching to try something, it's a good restaurant.

Xanh Bistro
16161 Brookhurst Street (corner of Edinger)
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(714) 531-2030

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Do you happen to know what kind of fish they used in the two fish dishes you ordered? I do not eat catfish or similar fish for religious reasons. Does the menu have an explanation each dish or does it list dishes by name only?

    Sorry for the questions. I have been intrigued by the discussion on this board to give Xanh Bistro a try.

    6 Replies
    1. re: profhotsauce

      It didn't say (just "white fish") but you could certainly call and ask. English is definitely not a problem at Xanh the way it can be at other Little Saigon cookshops. The seared fish was most definitely not catfish and I don't think the caramel sauce was either (while I don't eat much catfish, my memory is that it's damn near impossible to fillet a catfish).

      Xanh isn't kosher, though -- so if that's the religious reason, you'll want to explain the requirements to them (assuming that you're not looking for a place with certification). They're very accommodating.

      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        Thanks. I do not go as far as requiring Kosher, but I grew up not eating catfish, crab, shrimp, and pork. I know it makes eating Vietnamese difficult.

        1. re: profhotsauce

          It doesn't have to. Just down the street is Au Lac, which is completely vegetarian (and almost vegan, except that some of their "meat" has whey in it). Pho, bun bo Hue, beef or chicken vermicelli bowls, bo kho, ca ri ga, several kinds of banh mi (sandwiches)... lots of Vietnamese food in your grasp. It's not like you object to fish sauce. :)

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            How is Au Lac? I have a vegetarian friend who I would love to take to a Vietnamese restaurant. Is is good? Obviously they have to make major adjustments to make it vegan, but is it reasonably good? What is the atmosphere and service like? Do they serve alcohol?

            1. re: josephnl

              I haven't been in a while. There's a lot of soy-this and fake-that but also some really good stuff beyond fake meat. It's a little crunchy-earth-mothery vibe inside, but it's tasty stuff -- they don't suffer from the Real Food Daily problem ("spices might be vegan but we don't use them anyway").

              I don't think they serve alcohol, but I could be misinforming you. They have some kind of hippy-dippy "supertonic bar". I doubt it's alcohol.

              They have a website -- www.aulac.com -- check it out.

          2. re: profhotsauce

            It sounds like we have similar diets. I have been taken to a bunch of places in Little Saigon by my Vietnamese friends, both nice and hole-in-the-walls. I can't eat every dish, but I have never had a problem putting together a good meal, even in a group where everyone is sharing. Especially if you don't mind butter on the steak, another French Tradition that flavors Vietnamese cooking.

      2. Yes, Xanh is very good. The first time was great, the second there were a few bumps. It is a really good choice for a date because it is a little nicer than your average VN restaurant.

        I had the short ribs which were very good. My wife had noodles w/ fish and I thought the soup was very tasty. Unfortunately, the noodles were undercooked the second time we went. We both tried noodles and each dish had undercooked noodles.

        But it is nice inside, the people there are very friendly, and some dishes really stand out. The Green Mango Salad is fantastic, the Egg Rolls are also delicious. The chocolate souffle was a nice surprise, but the Bread Pudding didn't work (but had a really good Tamarind sauce).

        Please give them a try. I love a hole in the wall as much as anyone, but nicer restaurants are a welcome addition to Little Saigon. I've been to Vietnam many times and that is also a new trend. Even the people in Saigon want good food in a nicer atmosphere.

        1. Hey Das Ubergeek,

          Great review, as always! :)

          I've been meaning to try Xanh for the last 1.5 months. It should be noted for all CH'ers:

          * Xanh is Closed on Tuesdays.

          (I found out the hard way.)

          1. Thanks for the great review and update ! Sounds like you guys really ate up a storm. When Das Ubergeek and King Kong5 get together , everyone knows there's some serious eating going on!

            1. The white fish in question/discussion here is Orange Roughy. This particular fish cooks very well in pans or on grills.
              I like the food here. It's a departure from normal Vietnamese cuisine in that they put up a menu that boasts more items trending towards healthy living. I like most the sauces there. It's a good concept, a place where you can take a few friends to eat and linger. I also found out that a beer/wine license is imminent and a patio section is waiting to be approved by the city.

              1. Boy, you sure did eat out a lot this weekend! Nice review...another to put on my to do list.

                5 Replies
                1. re: OCAnn

                  Every now and then we have "social weekend" and end up eating out a lot. It's salads and the like for the rest of the week, though, and the gym every morning at 0600.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Salads & gym...I'm impressed! Now fully entrenched in middle age, I exercise (to accommodate weekend chowing) by waddling...and hopping on my side to roll down hills.

                    1. re: OCAnn

                      Except I forgot my lunch today, so I ate at Pepito's. Not exactly a salad!!

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        Yeah...I saw that review and thought, "hey! What happened to that salad?!?"

                        1. re: OCAnn

                          I have my salad today! Oatmeal for breakfast, salad for lunch, and chicken tagine for dinner -- I am good to go!

                2. We would never have found Xanh without this board, and we are glad we did; our late afternoon meal today was lovely. Just two of us, so we ordered just 3 things, shrimp with rice flakes in plum sauce, banana blossom salad, and caramel sauce fish. Liked them all very much. The caramel sauce fish in particular was a hit; PayOrPlay Jr. kept nibbling on the fish long after his little 6-year-old tummy would normally be full, and we both kept soaking up the the remaining sauce with rice until there was none left in the pot. For dessert PayOrPlay Jr. picked the apple tart with cinnamon ice cream, which was a somewhat less exotic choice than some of the others but still quite good. It was about 4 on Easter Sunday, and we were the only ones in the restaurant the whole time we were there, so we had a chance to chat at some length with the charming and interesting chef/owner Haley Nguyen. The location is really out of the way and we hope Xanh finds its clientele; we don't get down to OC very often but we will certainly try to get back soon.

                  Xanh Bistro
                  16161 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: PayOrPlay

                    Nice review. It can be a true treat to be the only ones dining in a late afternoon situation like that, as long as the service is good and it sounds like it was excellent. Funny how empty restaurants and servers with nothing much to do will give you the worst service on these types of occasions.

                    Did you catch this very excellent piece, (the LA board link is just to a list of the places that I transcribed and posted so the information didn't vanish off of CH) Linda Burum of the LA Times did on the new style Vietnamese dining developing on and around Brookhurst? It's definitely worth perusing.



                  2. We've now been many times and it seems like the menu has stabilized.

                    Tonight my wife and I shared goi cuon (un-fried pork and shrimp and herb rolls), the banana blossom salad, braised short ribs and bread pudding.

                    The goi cuon were great. The difference between the asphyxiated offerings in plastic at a banh mi shop and the ones freshly-made at Xanh is huge... and the peanut sauce was heavily spiked with hoisin, which lent a nice depth.

                    The banana flower salad, excellent as always, with its sesame rice crackers. Love it; get it nearly every time.

                    The short ribs... Ohhhhhhhh my the short ribs. Literally falling off the bone, so tender even the connective tissue next to the bone melted in my mouth. Atop some fantastic mustard greens -- this lady knows how to cook vegetables and cook them WELL -- with some fried strings on top, swimming in a peppery, fragrant five-spice broth, mostly unreduced. I had a hard time not picking up the plate and drinking the sauce. Astoundingly great.

                    The bread pudding was good -- three "fingers" of pudding (try not to think of French toast sticks at Burger King) in an excellent coconut tamarind sauce.

                    Xanh now has a beer and wine license; a dozen wines, some by the glass, bottles all under $30, and a few beers, including 333 ("ba ba ba") if you want Viet beer with your Viet food.

                    Price tonight? $37.50 plus tip. What a steal!!

                    They have a special 5-course prix fixe Valentine's meal tomorrow: $45.

                    I love this place... Glad to see it was somewhat busy tonight.

                    1. Great review!

                      It's fascinating watching Fountain Valley evolve through the years. When I was growing up there in the 80's and early 90's, there was already a significant Asian population, but the food scene was very generic and chain focused. Now Brookhurst has turned into one of the main food corridors in So Cal!

                      1. Hello, Das Ubergeek!
                        I have carried your post in my mind for a couple of years; finally, this past Saturday night, we had dinner at Xanh Bistro. It was delicious...and we thank you!

                        I don't have much new to add to your well articulated description, but I did want to update your original post with yet one more positive rave!

                        We ordered several appetizers. They offer various spring rolls, so we tried all of them. They were similar, but each had its own dipping sauce; this gave us an explosion of flavors and made every bite a surprise as we mixed and matched all the rolls with the various sauces.

                        We also ordered the Tom Com Dep, Rice Flake Shrimp (crispy rice-flake crusted shrimp served with a tangy plum sauce). This was a stand-out! It was perfectly prepared and served hot. It was not at all greasy and stayed crisp until the last bite. I thought this dish was excellent and would order it again.

                        The Banana Blossom Salad was a new experience for us. It was filled with ingredients and beautiful on the table. Surprisingly, it was a very light salad and the dressing was subtle and not overdone. I think I might have liked it even more without the pork...next time.

                        I loved the soy milk with toasted rice drink; it was the perfect accompaniment for some of the spicy dips. After a couple of those, however, I had no room for dessert.

                        Our service was very attentive, helpful and friendly. The space, as you mentioned, is quite nice. However, there were only two other diners while we were there. I do hope Xanh Bistro is able to stay!

                        Xanh Bistro
                        16161 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: liu

                          i realize it has been a while since das ubergeek enlightened us on this one, and with the blessing of exilekiss and servong- i am on my second trip down from santa monica in the last couple of weeks.

                          in my world, well worth the trip

                        2. i went here after the la times did a review on them. i like it, but it's really a small place. if you've had to wait when this place is packed, it's easy to get turned off. as for service, there were some dishes we didn't care for, but we liked the banana blossom salad. do they still have the pumpkin soup?

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: catbert

                            Yes... kabocha squash soup with taro stems. I can't say it's been packed recently, which is a shame.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              i'm thrilled to hear it has been crowded, as on my two trips down there have never been more than 3 tables occupied which is a major shame, and causes me worry, as i definitely need to go back

                            2. re: catbert

                              Just out of curiosity, when its packed and filled with diners, are there ever any Asian diners?

                              My sample size was too small when I went there, but there were no Asian diners at the two other tables when I dined there.

                              1. re: hobbess

                                For the same reason you don't see many Asian diners at Brodard Chateau, Phans 55 or S Fine Dining—these are places that are comfortable for non-Asians and gateways to Vietnamese food, but a Vietnamese family is more likely to go to a hole-in-the-wall that specialises in whatever dish it is they want.

                                Brodard Chateau
                                9100 Trask Ave Garden, Grove, CA

                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                  Isn't that a pretty big red flag when you don't see Asian diners at a Asian restaurant?

                                  If Chinese people don't eat at Chow's, then that gives you a pretty indication of what they think of the food of Chow's.

                                  1. re: hobbess

                                    When I went the first time, there was hardly anyone in the place, so there were no red flags to be had. I had a great dinner, as I posted, so at that point the presence or absence of Asian people in the dining room was irrelevant to me. The food is very good and that's what I care about.

                                    I suspect that you don't see many Vietnamese people there because they can get the same dishes cheaper in Little Saigon. You're not going to take a first date to Vien Dong, Hanoi Restaurant or Quan Minh Ky, though.

                                    Furthermore, Vietnamese people are going to be perfectly comfortable going to a thoroughly Vietnamese place, because they can order in Vietnamese. Non-Vietnamese people aren't going to be comfortable there, so a place that serves good food and with English-speaking staff and a well-written English-language menu will naturally appeal more to non-Vietnamese.

                                    Vien Dong
                                    14271 Brookhurst St, Garden Grove, CA 92843

                                    1. re: hobbess

                                      Actually we think that S Fine Dining is quite a terrific restaurant, but because it's very upscale, e.g., expensive, it caters to a broad sweep of the population...some, but not largely, Asians. We find the food there quite similar to modern upscale restaurants in Hanoi and Saigon which we visited only last year. Sure in Westminster there are many much less expensive Vietnamese restaurants which serve delicious food and which are packed with Asian customers, but these are totally different from the "fine dining" experience of places like S.

                                      1. re: hobbess

                                        If you care about service then go to Xanh. There are other Vietnamese places with good food but lousy services and cheaper price. Vietnamese go to these places because of the cheap prices. Whenever I want to take my non-Vietnamese friends out, I usually take them to Xanh Bistro or Brodard Chateau. I am a Vietnamese foodie.

                                        Brodard Chateau
                                        9100 Trask Ave Garden, Grove, CA

                                    2. re: hobbess

                                      I went today and most of the diners were Asians with a few Caucasians sprinkled in.

                                  2. I'm looking forward to trying this place soon for a weekend lunch. Found out about it through Das Ubergeek's review. Plus, we called and corkage is only $5. That's an amazing selling point right there. Was considering Old Vine Cafe for lunch, but refuse to pay $25 corkage for a casual lunch (I mean really -- the Old Vine Cafe lunch menu consists of mostly things like tuna sandwiches and omelets, so I'm just not paying $25, so I can have the wine I want with my tuna sandwich). So Xanh Bistro will get our business instead.

                                    Xanh Bistro
                                    16161 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708

                                    Old Vine Cafe
                                    2937 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

                                    1. Finally made it down today.

                                      Started with vegetarian rice paper spring rolls. These were fantastic - a symphony of fresh exploding tastes of herbs and tofu.

                                      The green papaya and mango salad was interesting. My only prior experience with green papaya salad was the Thai version, which if made properly, is searingly spicy. This one had no heat, so for a chili freak like myself, was a little disappointing.

                                      We also had white fish filet with tumeric, galangal, dill and rice crackers. This was quite good - the fish was flavorful and moist. I didn't think the rice crackers added much.

                                      Lastly we had sauteed shrimp with soy bean sprouts. This was the only read dud - I thought it was quite bland and uninteresting.

                                      My favorite part of the meal -- other than those spring rolls -- was dessert. We had coconut creme brulee and ginger ice cream. I'm usually not a huge coconut person, but I really liked the creme brulee because it wasn't overwhelmingly coconuty. The ginger ice cream was very gingery and I love ginger, so I thought it was perfect. The lemongrass tea was divine and a wonderful way to end the meal.

                                      $5 corkage is great, although the Oregon pinot noir that we brought did not match well with the food. I don't necessarily believe that you need a Gewürztraminer or Riesling with Asian food, but definitely not a pinot. I think a high acid white like a Gruner (which has a reputation of matching well with difficult to match foods) or a crisp Muscadet would have been better.

                                      1. Very sorry to report that Xanh Bistro is closing "soon"--as soon as the end of this month, according to the staff on duty when we dropped in for lunch on Saturday (chef Haley wasn't there). Our meal was excellent as always: since we discovered Xanh from this thread four years ago, it had become our favorite Orange County restaurant.

                                        We're told that they'll be looking for a new location and a March OC Weekly article says likewise. But in the meantime, if you haven't been in a while, or ever, now is your last chance, for the time being.