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Jun 5, 2010 09:01 AM

Little Saigon Adventure Rd IV - Com Tam Thuan Kieu, Xanh, China Chef Mi La Cay

So I've been home from NY a couple times in the last few months and I've been meaning to write this up for a while, but I've been busy, so I'm just getting around to it now. I forgot my camera again, so I only have one pic from my blackberry. I also went to some korean places that are awesome, but since these posts about Little Saigon are about vietnamese food I decided to write a separate posts about them here:

Here's where I ate:
Com Tam Thuan Kieu: I love com tam and I decided to try a different com tam place than my go to spot Com Tam Tran Quy Cap ( Com Tam Thuan Kieu is truly a hole in the wall in a small crappy strip mall, Com Tam Tran Quy Cap is much nicer than this place. It was pretty dirty and ghetto although I don't really care about that if the food is good. Besides com tom they seem to specialize in Nem Nuong Cuon, which is this spring roll with grilled pork patties in it (has a steamed rice wrapper around it) as they had a big sign advertising it. I got the combo B, which was $9 and huge (literally i ate half, took the other half home and it barely fit in one of those big white square styrofoam containers). Combo B had a pork chop, cha gio (fried spring roll), pork skin, that big egg quiche thing, nem nuong (grilled pork patty), fish cake, a shrimp cake wrapped in fried tofu skin, pickled daikon / carrot strips and diced scallions. The com tam itself was excellent, it was as good as Com Tam Tran Quy Cap. The toppings were good although I didn't think they were as good as Com Tam Tran Quy Cap. The pork chop was a little gristley although the meat you could get at was tender and had good flavor, the shrimp cake was nowhere near as good as the Com Tam Tran Quy Cap although still very tasty, the other stuff was pretty standard meaning it was good although i did think their nem nuong was another standout. Overall, its a very good place although Com Tam Tran Quy Cap is better. I would like to come back specifically to try their nem nuong cuon b/c their nem nuong itself was pretty good

Xanh: a while ago DasUbergeek recommended this place (thanks btw!). It's much different than most places in little saigon. It looks like a semi-modern more upscale cafe. It's got alot of exposed concrete, various pics on the fall, very clean looking. I believe most of the waiters were born here (no accents) although I believe they are still vietnamese. Normally, as far as asian food goes when I see anything that is fusion-y I immediately have a huge amount of skepticism as I've found that 9.5 out of 10 times they hugely disappoint me and i find food that i think it watered down to cater to americans that i find pale to the original dishes (btw nothing wrong if you like this, taste is purely matter of opinion). Even though it was recommended by credible chowhounds, I still came in here thinking that. Well luckily, Xanh is the 0.5 out of 10 times where I found something I thought was excellent. I'll get straight to the food, here's what we got:
- Cơm cháy thịt nướng (Crispy rice & grilled pork): wow, this dish was awesome. Its this crispy rice (think like the bits of the rice on the outside of a grilled onigiri rice ball), so its not totally just crispy, there are some semi soft parts as well, topped with this excellent grill pork. The pork is semi sweet and tastes exactly like lop chong / la chang (chinese sausage). They've got an excellent chili paste (tastes like it has alot of garlic in it) and combined with the nuoc mam (a sweet viet fish sauce) it tasted unbelievable. I loved the texture as well. This was awesome.
- cha gio (fried viet spring rolls): These were nice and light, pretty long for cha gio with a smooth exterior, which is different than the bubbly wrapper most places have. They actually tasted pretty standard, very similar to the ones of at Pho Thanh Lich. Overall, these were good.
- Gỏi xoài đu đu xanh (Green papaya & mango salad with shrimp): another good dish. Pretty standard with thinly sliced green papaya and mango, pickled carrot, peanuts and a couple of other condiments tossed in lime type sauce. I love these dishes and this was no exception. They always taste so cool and refreshing with a little bit of spiciness. Another winner
- Bò lúc lắc (Sautéed lemongrass beef cubes): this was very interesting, very different than most bo luc lac, which is usually covered in a black bean sauce. This version wasn't really in any sauce, they were standalone and you could really taste the beef more than anything else. They had a great charred flavor, were very tender and just had a good clean taste to them. It's a simple dish and I felt like it was a completely different dish than most bo luc lac. Very good.
- Cá kho tộ (White fish in house black pepper reduction): Wow, this along with the crispy rice was my other favorite dish. It comes out sizzling in a small skillet with a top on it. It's small fillets of a white fish in these sweet carmelized black pepper reduction. It was sweet but not overly sweet with a great carmelized flavor and you could taste the black pepper as well. The fish was super tender and not fishy at all. I loved this dish.
This is one of the better restaurants I've been to in orange county in a really long time and I respect that they were actually able to pull off some fusion food. I really recommend trying this place out, its really good.

China Chef Mi Lay Cay: I'm a big fan of alot of the chinese places in Little Saigon that are usually southern chinese (cantonese, chao zhou mainly) cooked by chinese people from vietnam, so it's got a viet influence to it. This type of food is super good, a combo of two of my favorite foods in the world. Mi Lay Cay has been on my list for a while as I'd heard it was really good. My gf and I decided to try it out for lunch. It's another non-descript restaurant in a forgettable strip mall, the parking was awful, i ended up having to park a block or so away in a residential area. It was packed and I actually had to wait 10 mins to get a table (always a good sign). The waiters don't speak good english at all, I tried speaking to them in mandarin, but i don't think they really understood me, so i resorted to pointing and using some broke ass cantonese as i know the names of most of the dishes in cantonese. They definitely understand viet and cantonese as I heard people speaking to them in both. There are several branches of this place, but I went to the one on Westminster Blvd. Mi Lay Cay's specialty is mi, which are thin yellow noodle (you'll notice every table has it). They use an oyster sauce which they cook the noodles in (its just lightly coated on it, you can taste it, but its not strong), then put some lettuce and a meat of your choice on it, they serve it with the soup on the side. I got the cha siu / cha shao (roast pork) and my gf got the kao ya (roast duck) version. The mi is awesome, the noodles are perfectly al dente, the light flavor of the oyster sauce is awesome and the soup they give you is awesome, very fragrant and light, not too salty and i don't think there was much or only a little MSG (i only pour a little on to loosen up the noodles and then drink a little soup with each bite)...i loved it, really good. The cha siu (roast pork) had great flavor and looked very different than most cha siu (wasn't red on the outside) and had a more mild flavor, however i thought it was a bit on the dry side. The duck was really good, had great flavor and was salty, but in a good way, went really well with the soup and noodles. Overall, another really tasty place in Little Saigon, definitely recommend.

Here's the addresses:
Com Tam Thuan Kieu:
China Chef Mi Lay Cay:

Pho Thanh Lich
14500 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683

Com Tam Thuan Kieu
120 E Valley Blvd Ste I, San Gabriel, CA 91776

China Chef
14045 Goldenwest St, Westminster, CA 92683

Mi La Cay
10078 Westminster Ave, Garden Grove, CA 92843

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  1. Hi Lau,

    Great report! :) Thanks for the thoughts on these places.

    I enjoy Com Tam Thuan Kieu quite a bite, ever since the first time Das Ubergeek recommended it years ago. :)

    Are you sensitive to MSG? The reason I ask is that I was super excited about trying Com Tam Tran Quy Cap, and I thought their baked egg was delicious like you, but within minutes (and the rest of the afternoon), I was feeling a major MSG overload. Too much of the sodium flavor crystals. :(

    I really like Xanh Bistro as well. Very nice. :)

    Xanh Bistro
    16161 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708

    Com Tam Thuan Kieu
    120 E Valley Blvd Ste I, San Gabriel, CA 91776

    3 Replies
    1. re: exilekiss

      i'm actually not very sensitive to MSG, i usually notice it if there is a ton in the food, but it doesn't really affect me (lucky for me). That said sometimes i've found that places that use alot of MSG use it to cover up poor execution of their food although that's not always the case and I don't think that's the case at Com Tam Tran Quy Cap. Btw, which Com Tam Tran Quy Cap do you go to? I go to the one on Mcfadden, I didn't really notice a ton of MSG in their food.

      I like both places, but i think the topping at Com Tam Tran Quy Cap are better. The shrimp in the the fried tofu skin is ridiculously good, i haven't had any other place make it anywhere close to the level of Com Tam Tran Quy Cap and they also have this bbq pork and these pork meatballs that i love. I also think they may cook to order b/c the food at Com Tam Tran Quy Cap comes out slower than the food at Com Tam Thuan Kieu, which came out in like 2 mins

      Com Tam Thuan Kieu
      120 E Valley Blvd Ste I, San Gabriel, CA 91776

      1. re: Lau

        Hi Lau,

        I went to the one on McFadden as well. :( Don't get me wrong, I agree with your statement: Sadly many places use the flavor crystals as a crutch, but for Com Tam Tran Quy Cap, I also found the level of cooking / execution of the Shrimp in Fried Tofu Skin and Egg to be really nicely done. Which is frustrating for me because of their MSG usage on something that's great by itself (without it). I would say, I like Com Tam Thuan Kieu's Pork Chop better (the one at CTTQC turned out a lot drier (the 2 times I ordered it)). Thanks.

        1. re: exilekiss

          ah interesting...i'll keep it in mind when i go there next to see if i notice it

          btw i told two of my friends in LA to go to RH, so they went last night and they loved it! i'm super excited to go try it

    2. Wow, great report! I'm glad you liked Xanh. My favourite thing from there has to be the insane banana blossom salad, though I agree the crispy rice with grilled pork is a must-order. Desserts are, a little oddly for a Vietnamese place, excellent.

      I like both Tran Quy Cap and Thuan Kieu for different things. I think Thuan Kieu has better cha (egg cake) and better lap xuong (Chinese sausage). Tran Quy Cap has much better bo Dai Han (Korean-style beef) and dau hu ky (stuffed tofu skins).

      I've only been to the Mi La Cay on Bolsa and Magnolia. I thought it was good but frankly if I'm going to eat mi, I'm going to have mi quang from someplace like Quan Minh Ky.

      Next time you come home, you've got to go to Ngu Binh for banh... banh beo, banh ngot, banh it kep banh ram... mmmm... and great bun bo Hue too.

      Ngu Binh Restaurant
      14072 Magnolia St, Westminster, CA 92683

      Thuan Kieu
      8940 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, CA 92683

      1 Reply
      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        yah i wanted to try their desserts, but i was so full i couldn't order anymore. Loved that place though, so thanks for the rec! i was debating on getting that banana blossom salad, so i'll def get that next time

        i'm not a huge fan mi quang as a dish i actually went specifically to Ngu Binh for it; my feeling was that ngu binh did a good job on execution, but that mi quang as a dish was just ok, wasn't bad or anything just not great. mi quang is totally different than the type of mi they serve at Mi La Cay. I did try a bunch of their banh, same thing for most of the banh, pretty sure they were well made, but not something i was crazy about. i did like the banh beo chan though, those were very good. i noticed alot of people had bun bo hue at their table and that's a dish i've been trying to find a good version, so ngu binh is high on my list b/c i want to go try their version

        here's what i wrote about ngu binh: