It takes a special kind of bravery, at least, to go from having no professional cooking experience to running your own restaurant. With Xoia Vietnamese Eats, Echo Park locals and married duo Jose Sarinana and Thien Ho will undertake just that, starting tonight.
Sarinana and Ho have taken over an old paint shop next to El Prado, a surprisingly large space now filled with big, bright canvases and splashed with red, from the chairs to the chopsticks. It's got a raised, covered patio, and pedestrians have been coming up the ramp for some time now to get a look at this much-anticipated restaurant. And finally, it soft opens tonight at 5 p.m., serving, among other things, pho beef tacos.
The tacos in question are made with the beef used to create the pho broth, fried up until very crispy and seasoned with anise and Vietnamese cinnamon. What was once a food-saving measure in the Ho-Sarinana household is now served with red onions and generous squeeze of lime.
The banh xeo, a crepe made with mung beans and coconut milk, is more traditionally Vietnamese. The food at Xoia is inspired particularly by the specialties in Ho's hometown, Hoi An. It's simple food (though the pho here does have a secret recipe), and the prices reflect that: nothing over $9. Xoia was opened on a whim (as much as a restaurant can be a whim), after Sarinana won his in-laws' culinary approval. "I used to think only Vietnamese people could cook the best Vietnamese food, but then I tried his cooking," says his wife. "Plus in Vietnam, a dish can be different from town to town. I realized 'authenticity' meant nothing."
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If authenticity was necessary, Sarinana wouldn't use an oven to braise his meats (home kitchens in Vietnam don't have ovens), and the pho taco wouldn't exist. Jose doesn't seem nervous about bringing his fusion vision to the masses, despite his lack of time running a kitchen. "After tonight, I'll have a full day's experience. That counts."
Xoia Vietnamese Eats: 1801 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 413-3232.