First Bite: Looks Fusion, Cooks Orthodox, or Dip's Grill in Alhambra
If you've eaten around and in the San Gabriel Valley, you've probably become accustomed to the markers of an overly ambitious Asian-fusion restaurant, the couples picking listlessly at their sautéed-seafood salads, and bros pounding down exotic bowls of noodles before they hit the clubs. On the west side of the L.A. River, young Asian chefs are often trying to marry the cooking they grew up on with the flashy style they see at places like Animal. On the east side, it seems as if these chefs are trying to disguise the fact that their food comes from anywhere at all.
So the last thing you might expect to find from Dip's Grill, which resembles a prototypical fusion joint -- from the KIIS-FM-like sound track, to the profusion of flat screens, from the sliders to the tight, black clothing on the waiters and waitresses -- is a fairly orthodox menu of dishes from central Vietnam, although the lightened bun bo hue has been renamed Spicy Beef Noodle Soup, and the crunchy rice hockey pucks are called Pan-Fried Sticky Rice Patties instead of xoi chen.
The steamed rice cakes called bánh bèo, sprinkled with a crunchy mix of fried onions and dried shrimp, are served stacked like checkers. The spring roll resembles a dish from the nem parlors, a rice-paper wrap stuffed with herbs, grilled meat, rice vermicelli and a smaller fried spring roll; the chicken in the Hainan chicken rice is tossed with chopped rau ram leaves and a tart dressing. And surprisingly enough, it's all kind of good -- good enough that you can eat an entire meal here without even thinking about the proximity of the beef rolls at Noodle 101 Express next door. Is Dip's all about the slippery, crunchy pork-belly buns? Very well.
Dip's Grill: 1412 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 284-3477.
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