Vinh Loi Tofu- SFV's Vegan Gem
One of the true gems in the valley is Vinh Loi Tofu in Reseda. This is a truly magical place where owner, Kevin Tran, creates unbelievable vegan delicacies. First, let me say, I am not vegan and enjoy a well-cooked piece of animal flesh any day. However, I also know great food when I taste it.
Chef Kevin's special gift is the ability to make tofu in different shapes, colors, textures and flavors. The beef tofu is greyish pinkish, and has an earthly, musky cinimon flavor that reminds me of a Morrocan beef dish. The chicken tofu is like the purest white meat chicken. When you pull it apart, it even shreads as chicken would. His shrimp looks like shrimp, pink and curved and segnented, and it feels like shrimp in your mouth. It really is a marvel what the man can do with the soybean.
Everything is made “in-house”. If you are going for the first time, I highly recommend the House Special Soup. It is a wonderful introduction to Kevin’s magic. The flavorful broth (a bit on the spicy side but if you don’t like that, just let Kevin know), is filled with shrimp, beef, chicken and fish tofu, all of which taste better than their “real” counterparts and noodles. I, personally, don’t care for the fish too much so I ask for it to be excluded but that is truly just a personal preference.
Also a must on your first try are the Chicken Nuggets. I know this takes some trust, but believe me, you will not regret it. The Chicken Nuggets come with the French Fries but I generally choose to omit those and just ask Kevin for Chicken Nuggets only. The nuggets are superb. My 7-year old loves them too and has to fight my husband and me for the last one.
The Duck Soup is also wonderful as are many of the other delicacies on the menu that is constantly expanding as Kevin creates more tasty concoctions. The mushroom tofu is superb and tastes great with hoisin sauce.
Do not leave without purchasing some of the great soy milk “home-made” by Kevin. We prefer the greenish, slightly sweeter Pandan variety.
The restaurant is tiny with just a few tables so you may need to wait a bit if you want to be seated. We often eat at the restaurant but even if we don’t, we stop by almost every week to grab some soup to-go. If you let Kevin know, he will give you the uncooked noodles separately and the soup can then be easily frozen for consumption later that week.
Give Vinh Loi a try. You will not be disappointed.
Vinh Loi Tofu
18625 Sherman Way
Open 7 am to 7 pm every day
I really like their bun bo Hue. The decor is a pleasant, colorful variation on spare cafeteria style. I was amused when I was there and a white guy came in with his teen/preteen son and a friend, saying it was the son's favorite restaurant.
I'm almost certain he does *not* make the fake meats and fish in house, and most of them are commercial processed soy mock meat, not tofu, of the type you can buy at any Chinese / Vietnamese vegetarian supply house. The actual tofu and soy milk is made in house, and is excellent (though you can get similar tofu at a number of Vietnamese tofu shops, at least in the SGV).
The soups are very good - even my gf, who is not vegetarian and rather picky about her Vietnamese soup likes it, and definitely prefers it to the soup at any other vegetarian restaurant. I'm not 100% sure I believe him about how long he cooks his soup and that it's entirely made from scratch - the chef is a very nice guy, and a character, but kind of a big talker (always bragging about how many chefs from other restaurants come to ask him about the secret of his soup). He says the secret is just cooking it for a long time, though I can't really figure out how cooking a vegetarian broth for a really long time matters (beyond reducing it to the desired concentration) - it's not like cooking with bones where it takes a long time for the flavor to be extracted.
In any event, the soup is quite tasty, and without the overbearing sweetness of a lot of vegetarian broths (though it seems to have quite a lot of glutamate in it - my mouth is always dry for quite a while after eating there).
His veggie "nuoc cham" is good - he says he uses coconut juice and chili sauce, along with (IIRC) vinegar and a little soy sauce. The spring rolls are so-so IMO.
Despite the fact that he insists that his stuff is vegan, I'd be willing to bet that some of the mock meat contains small amounts of casein, whey, or egg white. I have not been able to verify this one way or another by reading actual ingredients (though I believe some of the products he sells, such as the powdered bullion, had ingredients which were non-vegan).