Lesser Known Vietnamese dishes II: Banh Xeo and Banh Khot at Van Restaurant, Garden Grove (w/Pix)
Previously, I posted about Canh Bun at Quan Bun Ban Mai http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/635413
Now I want to post about Banh Xeo and Banh Khot at Van Restaurant. Slightly more well known but still relatively obscure, these dishes and restaurant has been mentioned on this board a few times and although it's been around yrs, I didn't see any formal review so I think it deserve it's own place on this venerable board...
In business for over 20 years, Van Restaurant is another one of those Little Saigon institutions where their reputation is built on a few dishes, like Quan Bun Ban Mai and their canh bun, here it's the crispy fried rice flour dishes of banh xeo and banh khot. Sure, they have other rice and soup items on the menu that you might be tempted to try-- but you'll probably be in the very small minority because if you're a regular or have prior knowledge of this dish, chances are you came into this restaurant specifically for some crispy and savory banh xeo or banh khot.
Made from rice flower, coconut milk, and turmeric, Van specializes in making southern Vietnam style banh xeo which is huge, compared with central and northern counterparts. Generously stuffed with pork, shrimp, beansprouts, and onions these come to you crisp, hot off the pan. The other regions have their slight variations as well, including stuffing with mung bean paste.
The distinction between an okay and great banh xeo is the thinness and crispiness of the crepes--which is actually not an easy task. Van's version is very thin and crispy, although on one occasional it was a bit oily and soggy probably because they do not bring it to us right away.
Banh khot is made from similar ingredients and instead of pan fried in a large crepe, these are poured in little modes in cast iron pans, fried perfectly crisp and topped with shrimp.
Both are eaten similary with a large accoutrement of fresh lettuce and herbs (mint, mustard leaves, basil, perilla). We both like to make lettuce wraps, however, you can just combine these ingrediants in a bowl and top with nuoc mam cham. It's an explosion of flavors if your mouth from the fragrant crispy crepe to the hot savory beansprouts, shrimp and pork, balanced with the fresh herbs and lettuce...
The decor probably hasn't changed a bit since they opened this store in the 80's with old, sun washed photos, and it seems for the time being, their prices are also seem to be stuck in the 80's as many items still under $5! Even the beer is $1.50! But we're not complaining... The menus are well worn and even tattered, however, the regulars don't need the menu because they're here just to eat their excellent rendition of banh xeo and banh khot...
Full photos after the jump: http://ravenouscouple.blogspot.com/20...
Van Restaurant – Nha Hang Van
14122 Brookhurst St,
Garden Grove 92843
Banh Khot is great :D it is of Khmer origin. is the third photo it? the real thing doesn't really look like this but maybe it's south Calif. rendition.
i still remember like yesterday... a young girl was making these brilliant delicious little things on the pavement in Chau Doc [south VN]. her rig was most simple, plus a couple of plastic toy stools for her customers. wish i knew more about 'foodtography' back in 2004! :D
3 friends & I were eating at Brodard one day, and my one friend ordered banh xeo there, which she thought to be "ok", but a bit "mushy". A Vietnamese gentleman at the next table from us leaned over & told her "for this dish, the best is across the street at Van's". Go there.
So we did & it was!
I think I need to go back soon for the banh khot, which I missed trying last time.
christoofat: Thanks for sharing that funny story! You, Thi N. and others might probably agree that restaurants in Little Saigon have very niche specialties--it's really the only way to survive in such a competitive environment. It's really similar to Vietnam in a sense because in VN, foodstalls are probably more common then sit down restaurants and there, it's typically run by one person, specialiing in a singular dish that they did very well.
Exactly, which to me is part of the experience of enjoying VN food - you talk with people who know "where to go " for this or that dish, like Tan Hong Mai for their ethereal banh cuon, or Song Long for the baked sole w/ dill. You can almost taste the pride of the cook making their signature dish.
My friend just returned for "a visit home" to VN to see family & take her two young sons there for the first time. One night they go to her grandma's house, who made banh xeo for them, pulling out her ancient pan, and went to work, refusing any help in the preparation, as if to say "Take a seat, I have this ". Absolutely priceless!
Yup - I distinctly remember the banh xeo (which is supposedly a house specialty) not quite being awesome, but the banh khot being totally awesome.
Other good things at Brodard's: nem nuong. Nem nuong. Nem nuong. Still the definitive nem nuong in my book. Especially in spring rolls.