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Nov 4, 2012 10:40 PM

Thien Long in Paloma Plaza, San Jose (Bún Chả Cá Lã Vọng)

Mom and I got off the freeway in San Jose on a hot August night for a dinner break. I was betting on better air-conditioning in Silicon Valley and this was comfortably cool inside. Thien Long moved here a few years ago from the Grand Century Mall on Story Road and this was my first time at either locale. The specialty of the house is bun cha ca La Vong, offered on the combo menu for two, $22.95.

This turned out to be an enormous serving that could comfortably feed four, not just two. Plain crackers sans black sesame seeds and gray-purple mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste) came out first.

Then the two heaping platters, shown here with the rice bowl-size condiments for perspective.

That was quite a mountain of turmeric-stained grilled basa filets and some peanuts, on a bed of caramelized onions, scallions and fresh dill, and kept hot over sterno. But I found that the sterno dried out the fish rather than searing or caramelizing the vegetables. Good marks for not being grease-soaked, yet I missed the buttery richness of Turtle Tower’s version.

My preferred way of eating this is to mix the lettuce, herbs, fresh rice vermicelli, and fish mixture in a bowl with the sauces. The shrimp paste sauce seemed straight up, merely thinned, without additional seasoning and paled in comparison to another rendition I’d had recently.

While it’s been some years since the last reports on Thien Long’s bun cha ca, they’d generally been positive. There was not anything bad about the dish here, but nothing about it shined either singly or in combination. We had a whole bunch of food leftover and it’s telling that my thrifty mother did not want to take any of it home with us.

I’ll add that I saw Bun Mam offered on a handwritten sign posted on the wall.

Thien Long
3005 Silver Creek Road #138
San Jose, CA 95121
(408) 223-6188
Cash only

Report from the Viet lunch series:

Viet crawl at Grand Century Mall (former location of Thien Long)

More about Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi’

Other reports on food in Paloma Plaza shopping center

Fung Shui House, #126

Bun Mam Ha Tien, #192

Com Tam Long An Restaurant, #112

Hue Restaurant, #190

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  1. Too bad! When I had it at Grand Century some of the veggies were definitely caramelized (they actually had to be scraped off the pan). Also, previous descriptions say the fish was catfish, which may have dried out less than the basa.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      I guess I could have let the sterno burn longer, but I hate the smell of it at the table. I would expect basa and "catfish" to be one and the same at this restaurant.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        You're probably right. And I agree about the smell of sterno! But the dish you described does not closely resemble the descriptions in the links you provided.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          It's a shame that the passage of time has not held up the standards on this dish. Should have been pretty simple to improve, as all the elements were there, just not given the care and attention it deserved.

          Hope to hear from others about what else is good here, as the place was quite busy.