S Fine Dining
Vietnamese Dining started with us 5 years ago. A friend introduced me to pho and after that I was hooked. My next Vietnamese dining experience was Crustacean in SF on Polk St., I loved it. I recently dined at Crustacean in Belverly Hills and again loved it. Due to the small portions and high prices we only make this an annual trip.
At a cooking Class I met the chef / owner of S Fine Dining located behind the Westminster Mall and later tried S Fine Dining. I loved the food and the menu is extensive. Every Dish I've ordered there I have really enjoyed it. S Fine Dining uses the best ingredients, my favorite dishes are: halibut ceviche, shaken beef, ox tail, spring rolls, seabass in black bean sauce, seabass in spicy curry coconut sauce. the atmosphese is nice and the prices are fair.
I can't bear Crustacean, because I can get much, much better food without paying through the nose for Beverly Hills rent and uppity surroundings.
Little Saigon is a treasure trove... you might also want to check out Xanh Bistro on Brookhurst in Fountain Valley, or delve into some of the less "white-tablecloth" type restaurants -- you won't find many Vietnamese eating in the expensive places.
Vietnamese food is arguably the best food bargain in Southern California -- you can eat your fill of delicious, freshly-made food usually for under $10, depending on how gracious you want your dining experience to be.
I've posted before about my "Little Saigon Atmosphere Rating System", but here goes again:
Type A is a place like Xanh, with American-style service, people checking in and refilling water, linen napkins and bistro-like atmosphere. English is widely spoken and in fact the menu may not have the Vietnamese names of dishes. Prices are, by Little Saigon standards, sky-high (though Xanh, for example, is still only $10-$15 per entree). Places like S, Pho Republic and Xanh fall into this.
Type B is a step down. You have to walk up to the register to pay, the napkins may be paper and in a dispenser on the table, but you stand a decent chance of English being spoken, and the menus will typically have reasonable English descriptions of the food. Places like Quan Hy, Quan Minh Ky and Pagolac fall into this category.
Type C is by far the most common. You are likely to have somewhat gruff (let's call it "efficient") service. You will need to ask for whatever you want, and English may need to be supplemented with pointing and gestures. Chopsticks and utensils will be in a holder on the table, along with a myriad of sauces and a tin napkin dispenser. Your food may be rather unceremoniously brought to table but service is nearly always lightning-quick because you are not really encouraged to hang out (the lighting wouldn't encourage it anyway -- this is where high-school cafeteria fluorescent bulbs go when they die). When you want to pay, you go up and they tot up your bill. Credit cards may or may not be taken, so make sure to look at the cash register before eating if you intend to use plastic. Places like Vien Dong, Com Tam Thuan Kieu, and almost every pho shop in Orange County follow this model.
Type D is the lowest form of service. You walk up to a counter and give your order. No words will probably come from the person behind the counter. They may speak English but will do so only grudgingly and with a lot of unnecessary, blood-pressure-raising glares. Typically there are few if any places to sit, because that would mean they would have to clean up after you. If it is crowded, as it often is, you will need to resort to some physical effort, because the Vietnamese consider an orderly queue a bizarre European import, best safely ignored. Prices are nearly always rock-bottom. Places like Banh Mi Che Cali and Van's Bakery fall under this category.
The food can be excellent at any of these categories of places -- all of the places I have mentioned are well-loved by Chowhounds; it's just a matter of how much 'authenticity' you want. If you're looking for a nice first date, stick with Type A. If you're already past the third date and you really do want some good Vietnamese food, Type B is OK, and maybe some of the Type C. Don't take a date to Type D places.
In any case, if a single plate or bowl of food at a Vietnamese restaurant costs you more than $15 (unless it's something truly special, like lobster), that is a big hint that you are in the dreaded Vietnamese Restaurant For Rich White People.
re: Das Ubergeek
Ubergeek, we may be going to Banh Mi Che Cali on different days or at different times, but I have never had language problems, gruff attitudes, or a lack of places to sit there. They ARE always in a big hurry, because they're constantly dealing with swarms, but as long as you don't wait until you're face-to-face with the counter person before you even look at the menu board you probably won't encounter any impatience...and if you DO pull a stunt like that you deserve whatever you get!
Or are we talking about a different place entirely? My experience is with the one in Rosemead. Is there another?
re: Will Owen
I'm pretty sure DU is talking about the BMCC's in Little Saigon. I can vouch for the accuracy of the language problems at many of the little saigon locations. Several times the person at the counter had to go get someone else to take my order after my failed attempts to pronounce "thit nuong". Needless to say, that 2nd person wasn't too happy w/ me either. But for those prices it's worth it.
re: Will Owen
The ones in Little Saigon don't have places to sit (OK, technically there are a few tables wedged in the corner of the one on Brookhurst next to Boiling Crab, but they're usually jammed out of the way to accommodate the crowd), they have very gruff service, and are amazingly crowded (especially the one on Bolsa/Magnolia -- some of those old women can really swing a parasol).