Dear Mr. Gold:
What's your favorite place to eat Hue/Central Vietnam food in Los Angeles? Also, do you ever venture down to the O.C. for some eats?
–Brian Tran, via Facebook
Dear Mr. Tran:
Interesting that you just asked this. Because I drove to Rosemead a couple of days ago for lunch at Quan Mien Trung, one of my favorite Central Vietnamese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, only to find out that it had been transformed into a pho parlor, seemingly overnight. I like pho as much as the next guy, but you can't throw a lime without hitting a noodle shop in this part of town, and my yen at that moment was rather specific: clam salad, properly stinky bun ca noodles with fishcake and some kind of mackerel, and maybe an order of the crunchy, half-size banh xeo I've never seen anywhere else. It also had some of the best iced filter coffee in town.
I am in Little Saigon a bit, and the clam salad with crunchy rice crackers and the bun bo hue at Quan Hy down on Bolsa are wonderful, but Westminster is kind of a long way to drive on a weekday afternoon.
But Nha Trang, in San Gabriel, is a decent place for Central Vietnamese-style noodles — I never liked the mi quang quite as much as I did Quan Mien Trung's less brothy version, but the bun rieu and the elegantly funky bun bo hue are first-rate. The shop makes only a limited amount of each dish each day, so if you arrive too late for bun bo hue, you're going to have to settle.
Both Nem Nuong Kanh Hoa in Alhambra and Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead are great for grand processions of the meatballs called nem, as well as spring rolls and banh beo, classic Central eats. And when you don't happen to be in the San Gabriel Valley, you could drop by Xoia, which is owned by a family from Central Vietnam. You've had better pho, but the banh xeo — crunchy, turmeric-yellow crepes stuffed with bean sprouts — is better than anything you're going to find on this side of town, and the thick, springy mi quang, noodles with peanuts, banana blossoms and rice crackers in a puddle of yellow broth, are very good. Can you get a vegan mi quang? This is Echo Park. You shouldn't have to ask.