Beloved regional Vietnamese restaurant Ha Tien Quan is closing for good on Sunday. If you’re familiar with the little San Gabriel restaurant and its distinctive dishes, this is sad news. If Ha Tien Quan isn’t familiar to you, you’ve got until Sunday night to find out why you, too, should be bummed about its closure.
Located in San Gabriel’s Sunny Plaza, Ha Tien Quan opened in fall 2012 and quickly became a favorite. So much so that it made our 99 Essential Restaurants list in 2013 and was a Best of L.A. winner last year. Sadly, this is a familiar pattern in the San Gabriel Valley, where the most interesting Vietnamese restaurants never seem to last more than a few years.
Named for Ha Tien, a town on the Mekong Delta in the southwestern-most part of Vietnam where the family running the kitchen originally hails from, the menu features many items you’d be familiar with from most Vietnamese restaurants.
There’s com tam, the broken rice dishes; bun bo hue, the spicy beef vermicelli soup from the city of Hue; and even pho ga, Vietnamese chicken soup. However, it's the ultra-regional items that made Ha Tien Quan the most interesting Vietnamese restaurant in the SGV. The house specialty is bun mam, a Vietnamese gumbo of catfish, prawns, pork belly, ginger, garlic and lemongrass in a fermented anchovy paste–based broth. There’s bun nuoc ken, a catfish and coconut milk curry soup, and hu tieu nai sa te, a chili and lemongrass broth with slices of New Zealand venison.
Even the appetizers brought uniqueness, with the rarely seen banh knot, little crepes of ground shrimp and pork, as well as ha giò re, an egg roll variant with a wrapper of latticelike rice noodles . Or for dessert, have the Ha Tien special, a colorful multilayered gelatin of coffee, pandan and coconut flavors.
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If all of this wasn’t enough to cement its uniqueness, twice monthly (on the quarter and three-quarter moon), Ha Tien Quan served only meat-free renditions of its dishes, in accordance with Buddhist traditions.
The final days of a restaurant can be a glum experience. But if you haven’t enjoyed the unique menu items at Ha Tien Quan, we suggest you stop by before Sunday, because we’re not sure exactly when we’ll see those dishes again in this area.
Soon a new restaurant will open in the space (the plaza has had a complete turnover in the past year or so), and maybe it will be a good one. Circle of life and all that stuff. But it would have to go a long, long way to be as interesting and unique as Ha Tien Quan.
529 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, Suite 178A; (626) 288-1896.