A journey through Vietnam, I am told, is empty without a visit to Hoi An, a port city in the middle of the country famous for the beauty of its old town. And a visit to Hoi An is without meaning unless it includes a bowl or three of cao lau, a thick, stubby rice noodle that is apparently unavailable in its original form anywhere else in Vietnam, much less in California. At least once a month, I get an email from anguished travelers wondering where they can find cao lau around here. I can do nothing for their hunger.
Xoia is the newest entrant into the street-level fusion sweepstakes, a sticky-table noodle joint in the commercial heart of Echo Park that just happens to have a serene dining patio out front. There are roasty versions of the noodle soup pho made with either beef or chicken, pleasant enough if not exactly the bowls destined to make the nearby Chinatown pho merchants sick with worry, and the bánh mì - lemongrass carnitas! - hew closer to Mexican tortas than to the traditional Vietnamese sandwiches. You will find pho tacos - made, I assume, from some of the meat used to flavor the broth - and limp versions of the crepes called banh xeo. The first word from the restaurant indicated that it would be serving cao lau, and we can only hope that the owners find a source. But for the moment, there is mi quang, a long, thick, yellow rice noodle from more or less the same region, topped with severely crisp rice-sesame crackers and drizzled rather than sopped in broth. A destination? Probably not, but fine for the neighborhood. And the best churros truck in town parks just a couple of blocks away.
Xoia: 1801 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 413-3232. Open daily, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Cash only. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. Starters $5.75-$6.75; banh mi $6.50; noodles $8.25-$9.25.
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