Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Los Angeles Area >
Dec 1, 2008 05:13 PM

Little Saigon Adventure (long w/ pics) - Pho Tau Bay, Trieu Chau, Pho 79, Brodard

So I had a bit of an epiphany while I was on the plane from NY to CA for thanksgiving...I decided that I needed to explore Little Saigon area more since its pretty close to my parent's house and the last few meals I had were very good (Vien Dong, Newport Seafood etc). Plus, I have this amazing concentrated area serving some of the best Viet food in the US and I wasn't taking advantage of it...thats sort of a crime.

I've also been trying to learn more about viet food b/c I figured viet food has to be great b/c pretty much every other asian food has been sort of a revelation when I first tried them. I remember trying Korean food for the first time and thinking how good it was (growing up in a chinese family, i never really ate it), same with thai, same with malay, same with indian (i also grew up eating japanese, so that was never a revelation even though its one of my favorite foods).

So, I did a bit of research and asked for some help on the chowhound boards (thanks for the recs everyone!) and I decided to hit a few places. Here we go:

Pho Tau Bay (3610 W. 1st St.) - I found some ramblings on this place, but not too much concrete, but I read they were a banh cuon specialist, so I decided to try it anyways. Banh cuon is a vietnamese steamed rice crepe w/ filling. I've never had a good version of banh cuon before...I sort of viewed it has an inferior version of cheung fan (chinese rice crepe) b/c the version i had before were pretty subpar. Well that all changed with Pho Tau Bay.

It's a small restaurant a little off the beaten path on the edge of little saigon where it starts turning into a much more mexican neighborhood. Like most places, not much to speak of decor wise, with sort of off orange colored walls and a bunch of tables. I walked in at an off hour (3pm on a friday), so it was pretty dead, just 2 other customers in the place and most of the staff, was cleaning up and re-filling sauce bottles and condiments on the table. They looked a little shocked when I started ordering in english b/c I dont think they get many non-viet people in there; nonetheless they were very nice. They only have 2 things (with a bunch of variations) on their menu: pho and banh cuon. However, I think banh cuon is the specialty here b/c 70% of the people ordered that with the other 30% ordering the pho and banh cuon.

I ordered a large order of the banh cuon dac biet. It comes out on a large plate and is several very thin rice crepes rolled up around little pieces of small bits of pork sausage and mushrooms topped with lots of crispy fried onions, crispy fried garlic and pork floss; on the side are two different types of a sort of pork bologne. They also give you a mixture of boiled beat spouts, cucumbers and basil and they give you a side of the typical nuoc mam (a sweet viet fish sauce)

First was a revelation! The rice crepe was so delicate; literally this was one of the best rice crepes I've ever had (including in Asia), paper thin, steamed fresh to order (was exact same quality both times I went). The filling was really delicious as well, great pork sausage flavor (not heavy at all) and wonderful mushrooms with tons of flavor. The topping was great as well, the crispy onions tasted just like the ones I used to eat when I lived in singapore and the garlic and pork floss were great as well. I hit it with a little nuom mam, chili oil (they've got a great one with a good amt of shrimp paste in it) and some of the beat sprout good!!!

It was so good, that i came back with my mom 2 days later on a sunday (this time it was packed with a 20 min wait, entirely viet, didnt hear a word of english except for me). The staff remembered me and they were surprised to see me again. This time I chatted with the short gentleman who doubles as sort of host / busboy / everything for a while. He asked me how I found out of about their restaurant and told me that they really cater towards the local viet community and rarely have non-locals come in, he explained to me how they make everything from scratch (literally), they mince the onions and then fry them for 45 mins, they get the pork fresh every morning mash it and then steam it for 4 hours to make the bologne type thing, they make the rice dough themselves and then steam it fresh to order etc. He really took pride in the food and was very excited about how excited I was about their food. I love places that really take pride in their food. This place is a keeper and I plan on being a regular when I'm in town

Trieu Chau (4401 W. 1st St.) - this is a long standing institution (i've heard about it for years). So, I'm not going to go into as much description. Its a total dump that is absolutely packed (my favorite chinese places are always like this). It's billed chao zhou food, which is a region in guang zhou province in china, but I believe these chinese people may have lived in vietnam. Chao zhou people are all over southeast asia (vietnam,singapore, thailand etc). Anyhow, I walked up and there was a big wait, but luckily since i was by myself I got seated in about 2 mins. Much like Newport Seafood next door, these guys speak like every language ever haha. I started speaking to them in mandarin, but after I sat down I realized that they could speak english perfectly, so just started speaking to them in english. I heard them speak viet, mandarin, cantonese, spanish, thai and some other languages which I wasn't really sure what they were. The service is very brisk, but efficient. I ordered the house special noodle soup (hu tieu nam vang) with rice noodles. Out came a steaming bowl of rice noodles in a beautiful fragrant broth with roasted duck, boiled chicken, pork slices, liver, fish balls and 3 or 4 shrimps. All the meat ingredients were really very good, not dry at all and very fresh tasting. The fragrant, not too salty, not too much MSG, slightly sweet, just of the better noodle soups I've had in a very long time, in fact the last time I had a noodle soup this good was def in asia. The noodles were perfect as well. Now, I know what so many people come here and this is also def on my list of being a return customer.

Pho 79 (9941 Hazard) - another long standing institution, so again not going to go into huge description. More lines, no decor, brisk service (albeit nice). Came here with my mom. Now I'll caveat this that with the fact that it is very good, but I think my expectations were too high given what I heard about this place. We both ordered the pho tai (pho with raw beef brisket). The broth was very flavorful, but extremely fact the most heavy pho broth I've ever had, you could see the little beads of fat / oil in the soup, I was sort of surprised at this (I could be wrong since im no viet expert, but I dont believe its supposed to be that heavy / oily). It also had a very strong star anise flavor, almost too strong where I realized halfway through that it was almost overpowering. The noodles were perfect and the beef and condiments were very good. But, I think I'm going to search around a little bit more for my favorite bowl of pho; i think my expectations were for a much lighter broth as when Ive had great beef broth (bones that have been boiled for a very long time under a low heat) its been a much lighter broth that doesn't need this amt of oiliness.

Brodard (9892 Westminster) - a 3rd long standing institution. This place has a little bit of decor with high ceilings and is well light, albeit a bit dirty. It's also got the weirdest restaurant location, its in the very back of the "Mall of Fortune". I came here with a bunch of people (mom, grandmother, sister, her bf), so I was able to order a lot of stuff:
- nem nuong cuon (pork spring rolls): this is the house specialty and I understand why. These are spring rolls that are basically steamed rice paper filled with a pork paste type of thing, its got these crispy things in the middle, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, daikon and mint. They've got this sort of sweet thicker sauce that goes very well with it. Overall, these were a winner.
- chao tom cuon (shrimp spring rolls): similar to the nem nuong cuon except with a shrimp paste...these were all very good
- bahn xeo (pan fried rice crepe): this was decent, but not great. I've had these in the paste. The dough has coconut milk in it, so you can definitely taste the coconut. It's filled with shrimp, sliced pork, onion, mung beans. It's served with another semi sweet sauce. We thought it was good, but not a standout
- com tam bi, cha, thit nuong (broken rice w/ bbq pork, shredded pork and eggloaf): I love broken rice, so I generally like this dish. I thought the bbq pork was pretty good, the shredded pork was a bit bland as was the eggloaf, but I still like broken rice, so I liked it
- goi bo (spicy beef salad): this was very good, it looked like an american salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onions. I believe the salad has some sort of vinaigrette. The beef has a sort of savory spiced gravy on it. It goes really well with the salad and this was another winner.
- goi vit quay (roasted duck salad): this was roast duck (tastes similar to a roast duck you could get in any cantonese restaurant) over bed of shredded cabbage that has some sort of vinagrette on it, also had some peanuts and shallots. This was pretty good.
- durian shake: I'm not sure why I ordered this as I was already really full, but it turned out to be really good...very tasty clean durian flavor (if you like durian), not overly def order again

Overall, I thought it was all very good, I wasn't blown away by anything, but I'd def come again.

All in, it was a great little adventure and I realize that I've got a ton of ground to cover the next few times im in town to get a good handle on little saigon...there are SO many restaurants and I'm very curious to go find more great ones.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Great review. Congrats on getting in all that good food--I would eat all the Vietnamese that I can here in OC too because, NYC's vietnamese food sucks. Interestingly, the original Pho Tau Bay in Saigon, VN is a block from my grandma's and they don't have Banh Cuon...but there pho is fantastic!

    1 Reply
    1. re: hppzz

      yeah NY's is extremely subpar

      interesting note on the OG Pho Tau Bay

    2. Hi Lau,

      Nice review. Thanks. :) I'll have to try out the Banh Cuon that you've raved about the next time I'm in the area. :)

      5 Replies
      1. re: exilekiss

        yeah that was one of those times where i found something that i was surprised with how good it was and thats pretty rare

        1. re: exilekiss

          Banh Cuon is one of those dishes that not too many non-vietnamese knows about, hence why the waiter was shocked to hear him order in English. Like he said, it's much much more delicate (and better) then the cheung fan (chinese rice crepe) that you get at dim sum. The fun is actually watching them do it because they still do it the old fashion way--- big pot of steaming water, a flat and taut cloth stretched across the top of the pot and then a very thin ladle of banh cuon mixture is ladled on the cloth, steamed for about 20 seconds, and flipped off with a bamboo stick.... my mom does this at home, but if you are in the SGV banh mi cali next to 888, you can watch them do it as well. It's not as good as since they are making it for fast food takeout...but still good. I usually eat Banh Cuon as a breakfast or light lunch--either Pho Tau Bay or Tay Ho (multiple locations in OC and SGV) are good options.

          1. re: hppzz

            well in the US, you rarely get fresh made cheung fan in chinese places (and certainly not dim sum places), but when i eat it in asia (HK specifically), alot of the places make it fresh to order as well (so good!)

            Banh cuon is def more delicate and I'm debating whether its better than good chinese cheung fan, it def might be...either way its really good b/c cheung fan is a favorite of mine, so for me to be debating if its better is a pretty big statement

            1. re: hppzz

              hppzz - btw any specific restaurant recs? u seem to know the are

              i'll be back in a month or so and im def going to hit up some more places

              1. re: Lau

                banh cuon tay ho is the original banh cuon place IMHO

          2. For broken rice you need to go to another restaurant which is just south of Brodard, but on the other side of Brookhurst. I am sure that Das Uber would be able to give the name of this and maybe other places that specialize in broken rice. Glad you enjoyed your culinary tour.

            26 Replies
            1. re: justagthing

              are you talking about Com Tam Tran Quy Cap?

              Das Uber recommended a few places and someone did recommend a broken rice place

              1. re: Lau

                No, not that one. i haven't tried that one yet, but of course will give it a go. The one I am thinking of is on Brookhurst, but sorry, can't get the name. I will try to drive by it this weekend, unless someone else posts it first.

                1. re: justagthing

                  sure let me know...ill be back in a month and id love to go to a broken rice specialty

                  1. re: justagthing

                    You're looking for Com Tam Thuan Kieu, which is on the other side of Brookhurst from Brodard. Excellent value for what you get, when I order the big combos I can't hardly finish it!

                    Hey Lau, glad you had another great go at the Vietnamese places. You may also want to try Bun Bo Hue So 1, which is the spicy beef noodle soup from the central region of Vietnam. It is located on Brookhurst at McFadden, behind Pho 54. I met up with SauceSupreme there one time and we had a great lunch.

                    And although you picked Pho 79 which is pretty good, I totally prefer Pho Thanh Lich which is kitty corner from Pho 79. Better broth, better meat (IMHO) makes a better pho.

                    Happy Eating!

                    1. re: kingkong5

                      funny enough i was debating Pho Thanh Lich vs Pho 79 alas I chose Pho 79, but my next pho journey is going to be Pho Thanh Lich

                      I also saw Bun Bo Hue So 1 when I was driving around and I'd heard of it, so thats def on the list...glad you verified that it is good

                      Do you think Com Tam Thuan Kieu is the best com tam? (i only care about quality at viet places b/c value at viet places b/c its the difference bet a $1-2 haha)

                      1. re: Lau

                        was not very impressed w/ Bun Bo Hue So 1 on a recent visit...thought the broth was very average to bland. I liked the Bun Bo Hue at Quan Vy Da better.

                        1. re: Lau

                          I can vouch for com tam trung qui cap, been going there for years. Be sure to get the crispy shrimp paste thing (tau hu ky)

                          1. re: Lau

                            i went to Pho 79 this past friday and was underimpressed with the Pho. It was pretty good (i got rare beef and brisket) but didn't have the heavy star anise flavor that the OP mentioned. but, i think i've heard there's a difference between Pho 79's. I'll try somewhere else next time.

                            1. re: Rosiepigs

                              Pho Thanh Lich is much better than Pho 79, here's my post on it:

                          2. re: kingkong5

                            Thanks kingkong, I knew someone else would be able to tell us the name. Their menu is so large, but now, instead of trying to figure what I want, I just order the king size combo that has almost everything and then take home leftovers for dinner or lunch the next day. As for the best, I will have to try the place on Harbor. Do you have an opinion on that KK?

                            1. re: justagthing

                              No need to parse the menu looking for the specific combo you want... Just tell them and they'll charge you correctly. You could also write it down. I never bother with the menu - the only thing they do well is com tam, so I never need it.

                              Tau hu ky: shrimp paste in tofu skin, fried.
                              Bi: shredded pork tossed in toasted rice powder
                              Lap xuong: Chinese sweet sausage
                              Bo nuong: grilled beef
                              Thit (heo) nuong: grilled pork
                              Cha: egg, pork and noodle pie (their best option)
                              Suon: pork chop
                              Bo dai han: Korean-style beef
                              Cha gio: spring rolls (fried)
                              Tom nuong: grilled shrimp

                              Did I miss any of them?

                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                  Thanks DU...good info, but that is why I go with my Viet. friend, she helps me order. :)

                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                    you got them all DU, except for my personal off-menu add-on, trung op la (a wonderful sunny side up egg that you pop open and get runny yolk all over your rice) yum!

                                  2. re: justagthing

                                    Having been to both Thuan Kieu and Tran Quy Cap, I personally prefer Thuan Kieu. Both are excellent however, and sometimes I'll have lunch at TQC just because it's closer to my work. But if you love the tau hu ky (the fried shrimp paste wrapped in tofu curd), then I will admit that TQC does it better.

                                    But then again, I think the soup that goes with the com tam, the soup is better at Thuan Kieu, and it's always served hot there, while I've had it lukewarm at TQC on occasion.

                                  3. re: kingkong5

                                    KK - I used to frequent Pho Thanh Lich frequently. I always got the Pho Ga. Recently, I have felt the quality has gone down. Do you agree?

                                    Also, for Pho Tai, I like Pho Kimmy. Have you tried this place and if so, what is your opinion?

                                    Thanks for all of your great posts - I appreciate reading them....

                                    1. re: HB_Jeff

                                      It's been about 5 months since I've been back to Pho Thanh Lich, the quality certainly could have gone down but it wasn't when I was there last. I prefer the pho ga at Pho Bolsa anyway (which is at Magnolia Westminster, nowhere near Bolsa Ave).

                                      Pho Kimmy is an excellent choice! It is my wife's favorite, so we eat there more often. I guess I like Pho Thanh Lich because I can get the filet mignon as the tai beef, which makes a big difference to me. But yes, Pho Kimmy is my #2 (well, my wife's #1) spot.

                                    2. re: kingkong5

                                      I can vouch that this place is one of the better if not best in Little Saigon. Other com tam places include the one in ABC market shopping center on Bolsa and Magnolia (Com tam thanh kieu?) and this place on the southwest side of Bolsa and Brookhurst. These other places are good, but the not as good as Com Tam Thuan Kieu.

                                      Com tam trung qui cap on Brookhurst and Moran is good for bean curd wrapped shrimp paste patty like ns1 said, they do have one of my faves which is mi quang.

                                      1. re: groover808

                                        btw does anyone know who has the best bun cha? i just thought about the fact that no one has mentioned it

                                        1. re: Lau

                                          You're talking about the deconstructed one where everything is separate? I've had bun cha hanoi at Van's (plaza one block south of Brookhurst and Westminster intersection) and Hanoi Restaurant ( SW cornerish of Magnolia and Bolsa). Hanoi's version is the best, big portion of pork and lemongrass pork patty. Since they specialize in northern Vietnamese food, they also have awesome banh tom co ngu - shrimp and sweet potato tempura. Their other specialty is sizzling dill fish although I've never had it. Van's is more whole in the wallish and a bit cheaper.

                                          1. re: Lau

                                            If you're referring to bun cha hanoi, my favorite is @Hanoi restaurant near the corner of Magnolia/Bolsa, near le croissant dore.

                                            Great bun cha hanoi + cha ca thanh long, although I haven't been back in a few months.

                                            re: Pho Bolsa

                                            Their pho ga is cool, but don't eat the regular pho. ESPECIALLY after going to PTL or Pho Minh. And it's pretty goddamn dirty in there to boot.

                                            Jesus I went to Pho Bolsa because my mom was on a vegetarian week and coudln't eat at PTL (and PTL doesn't have any vegetarian dishes), jesus christ it was so bad I went to Pho Minh 2 days later.

                                          2. re: groover808

                                            The one in Bolsa and Magnolia is one of the other branches of Com Tam Thuan Kieu (there is, or was, one in Rosemead/San Gabriel as well) but the one on Brookhurst is the best.

                                            My vote for best bun cha Ha Noi is at Vien Dong... home of the aforementioned fantastic cha gio (fried spring rolls, which they called "nem ran" on their menu until recently) and truly addictive cha ca thanh long (dilled turmeric fish), which is available in three sizes: large ($16, and huge), small ($13, and still pretty big) and as a bowl (bun cha ca thanh long, $8 I think).

                                            They also have the sweet potato and shrimp fritters.

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              ill have to try these places

                                              ive been to vien dong...i think their cha gio / nem ran is maybe the best ive ever had (although im admittedly not an authority on viet food) and the cha ca thanh long was really great as well

                                              i tried their bun cha ha noi...the pork was a little off when i went there, but i plan on going back there when i come home in a month, so ill try it again

                                              1. re: Lau

                                                Oh, what a shame!! I've never had that problem but if I did I think I'd be heartbroken. There is something about their grilled pork -- it's just smoky and FANTASTIC -- that just drives me wild.

                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                  it mightve just been an off day b/c everything else we had was great (u actually recommended it to me the first time, so thank you for that!)

                                                  i too love viet style grilled pork, its got that great charred exterior, its lean, but its still really tender and flavorful and it goes so well with nuoc mam...generally they seem to be able to keep their meats tender, but lean which i really like

                                              2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                Totally agree with Das Ubergeek. :)

                                                Thanks to Das, I found the glory that was their Cha Gio and the Fish w/ Dill / Turmeric as well. :)

                                    3. Great Review! Could someone please tell me what city (or zip) Pho Tau Bay is in so that I can find directions? Thanks.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: la chienne

                                        here's the yelp link:

                                        has a map...its pretty easy to find, its right behind this donut store in a small strip mall, they've got a big sign

                                      2. so i went back to Pho Tau Bay today, I've been waiting all week to come here and after a massive airport delay yesterday getting back here from NY, I was that much more excited to come here. This time i got both pho and banh cuon.

                                        Pho - I got the dac biet (everything). The pho is decent, but not great pho, the ingredients (noodles, meat etc) are all pretty good quality, so no issue there. The issue was that the broth however was a bit too salty for me and didn't have the type of great complexity you get from really good broth that has been boiling for a really long time (any great pho, ramen, chinese noodle soup etc has a similar complexity that doesn't need much salt or MSG to make it great). That said its better than anything available to me in NY haha (although there is def better pho available in CA). So, the bottom line is stick to the banh cuon.
                                        - Banh Cuon - fricking awesome, i would def eat here probably a few times a month if I permanently moved back to CA

                                        This is the 3rd time i've been here and the banh cuon tastes exactly the same everytime and i love consistent specialists restaurants...always my favorite type of restaurants. The staff knows me now since i think im one of the only non viet people who comes here regularly and its always nice to know the staff. Anyhow, i'm on round 2 of my little saigon adventure, so ill write it up once im done.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: Lau

                                          Hi there, my husband and I are visiting California tomorrow for the first time. We've been lurking and searching the forums from San Francisco to the OC to San Diego and this thread is EXTREMELY helpful as we've heard the vietnamese is the best in Westminster. We are so excited to visit. Our favorite is Bun Bo Hue so we will hit up Bun Bo Hue So 1. We'll get to Pho Tau Bay too. We'll get back to you on our Vietnamese adventure! Thank you so much for writing about the restaurants!!!!!

                                          1. re: Pheebee

                                            the viet food is excellent (and unbelievably cheap!)

                                            Here's my 2nd trip, there are some good places in here as well:

                                            1. re: Lau

                                              Made it for lunch today at Pho Tau Bay L.T.T after reading about it here. A little run down building but clean & bright inside. The banh cuon dac biet (large) & an ice tea was what I had - the rice sheet silky smooth, the fillings aromatic & very flavorful. This is the best example of this dish I have had! Funny, this place is just up the street from my old hang Pho Hoa Binh, which has kind of gone downhill after a sharp menu change/reduction. So finding this place is wonderful!! I will get around to trying their pho at some point, but not until I get burned out on their banh cuon first

                                              1. re: christoofat

                                                glad you enjoyed, their banh cuon is amazing, i don't use that word lightly, but it really is so good

                                                i wouldn't get their pho, its okay, but i'd much rather go to pho thanh lich...the banh cuon is the way to go at that place

                                                1. re: Lau

                                                  Maybe that's why I was so disappointed in PTB when I visited it some 10 years ago.

                                                  1. re: ns1

                                                    yah they really should change the name to like Banh Cuon Tau Bay b/c their pho is just alright, but their banh cuon is amazing