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Favori – Delicious Vietnamese Catfish and Crab in Little Saigon

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**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2011/01/favor...

Little Saigon is the oldest and largest Vietnamese community in the U.S. I also believe it is the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. A few years ago I realized it would be a shame for me not to start exploring it and subsequently it has become my favorite place to eat in Orange County. Since I don’t live in CA anymore, it’s taken me a while to go through my long laundry list of restaurants I want to try, but I’ve been slowing chipping away at it. You can see some of my old reviews here:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/576549
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/582941
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/634629
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/712316

Favori is a restaurant that is on the outskirts of Little Saigon in Santa Ana. It is known for its baked catfish and I’ve been meaning to try it for a long time. The restaurant is dimly lit and the decor is straight 1970s or 1980s cheesy French restaurant décor, but it is reasonably upscale for a restaurant in Little Saigon. The service was pretty good and our server was a very nice guy.

On to the food:
- Crab Sauteed in Tamarind Sauce (Cua Xào Me): I was debating between the hot pot and this, but given we only had 4 people, I decided the hot pot would be too much food. This was a whole crab that I believe was steamed and then sautéed in a sweet tamarind sauce. The sauce was quite sweet with chunks of tamarind in it, but very good, you could distinctively taste the tamarind. The crab meat was sweet and good and tasted great with the tamarind sauce. The only knock was that it was a pain to eat because of the way they cut the legs and the claws which sort of left them all together. Overall though I thought this was excellent. 4.5/5
- Crispy Rice Noodles with Beef and Seafood (Phở Áp Chảo): I wanted a carb dish and decided to get pho ap chao. The version here was great; its a sort of pancake of noodles all fried together then covered with a heap of seafood, beef, vegetables and cilantro in a brown gravy. Even though the noodles were very fried, they didn’t taste oily at all. The brown gravy was light, flavorful and not gloppy. The ingredients all tasted good. The flavor is similar to Cantonese beef hor fun, but the noodles are obviously much more crispy. Overall, I thought it was really good, probably the best pho ap chao I’ve had. 4.25/5
- Whole Baked Catfish (Cá Nướng Mỡ Hành): We weren’t sure what size to get, so we ordered the medium. We were shocked at how big the fish was when it came out. I think they cut it across the bottom to splay it all out, flash fry it to make the skin crispy and then bake it. The exterior is golden brown, covered in diced scallions and crushed peanuts. They give you two types of sauces is one is the orange Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm) and the other is a fermented shrimp paste sauce that smells strong, but is actually quite mild in flavor and is a bit sweet. I preferred the fermented shrimp sauce. They give you dried rice paper which you dip into a bowl of warm water, then put the lettuce, pickled daikon, condiments, sauce and catfish into it, roll it all up and eat it. The skin of the catfish is unbelievably crispy like as crispy or more crispy than peking duck or suckling pig. The skin is amazing tasting, I loved it. The meat is very soft to the point where it’s almost mushy and it’s not gamey or muddy tasting at all. When you wrap everything together and dip it into the sauce it’s so good. I really liked this dish a lot. 4.6/5
- Soda Chanh: Their soda chanh was just okay here. It was a bit sweeter than I like and not enough lemon flavor for me. 3.75/5
- Durian Shake: Their durian shake was weak, it was way too sweet and didn’t have nearly durian in it although I guess you might like that if you don’t like durian. 3.25/5

Overall, I really liked this place. The food was really good and I would definitely come back here. Highly recommend.

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  1. pho tau bay next door has great banh cuon
    dong khan up the street makes a great tamarind crab as well

    been going to favori for years, always get the catfish + banana flambe. Place hasn't changed since the early 90s.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ns1

      i really wanted to try the banana flambe, it was on my list of things to try, but with only 4 people we were way too full to eat anymore...it did look awesome, i saw a few tables that had it

      check the second link, i've been to pho tau bay, but i went there about a week ago and im going to write it up again and i've got alot of pics this time. btw i love pho tau bay, their banh cuon is ridiculous...i pretty much go there everytime i go home

      never heard of dong khan, ill have to check it out...what else is good there?

      1. re: Lau

        old school chinese/vietnamese family-style restaurant with a few tanks.

        tamarind crab, catfish in uh caramel sauce (not sure of english translation), sweet/sour soup, crunchy calamari, mussels

        those are my standbys (we usually order off the family menu)

        1. re: ns1

          oh ca kho to, i love that stuff...will have to try

    2. Favori has been our family's go-to spot for baked catfish since the 90's as well. I remember trying another highly regarded baked catfish place in the SGV once and the skin was soft and mushy. I much prefer the crispy peking-duck like skin at Favori.

      It's been a while since I've had it, but I remember really liking the French onion soup at Favori, too. They put a whole raw egg yolk inside the soup and I'm just a sucker for egg yolks.

      -----
      Favori Restaurant
      3502 W 1st St, Santa Ana, CA 92703

      3 Replies
      1. re: huaqiao

        yah i wish i had found this place earlier, it was really good...the skin, fish and condiments in the rice wrapper is so good

          1. re: ns1

            ohhh looks good, i love goi tom so ill have to try this place when im at home, which will hopefully be in the next 2-3 months

            actually now that i looked at my list thien an was on my list for catfish as well, but i wasnt sure if it was going to be as good b/c its a bon 7 mon place

      2. Out of curiosity, is most catfish served by Vietnamese restaurants actually native Vietnamese Basa Fish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basa_fish )? Or is it native American catfish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ictaluridae )?

        4 Replies
        1. re: Peripatetic

          hmmm i have no idea actually, can you get fresh basa in the US?

          given their prices i'd be surprised if they were able to fly in fresh catfish from southeast asia

          1. re: Lau

            Basa is a lot easier to get (and cheap!) than you think. I would suspect it's basa, rather than actual Mississippi River catfish.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Apparently at one point Basa was a little too economical for entrenched interests:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basa_fis....

              1. re: Peripatetic

                well they can dump it all they want, im happy to have it here haha