To chef Tin Vuong, the San Gabriel Valley hasn't changed much since his grandparents moved there after fleeing Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. The BlackHouse Hospitality executive chef — who is behind the South Bay empire that includes Steak and Whisky, Abigaile, Dia de Campo and Little Sister — remembers growing up in the SGV surrounded not only by his family's Vietnamese cuisine but also “some of the best Asian cuisine on the continent,” which has no doubt inspired his restaurants' varied flavors.
“The San Gabriel Valley is home to me,” he says. “It’s comfortable and recognizable. I’m happy to say that it still hasn’t changed much, except that there are more mainland China–style restaurants.”
In just a few short years, Vuong's restaurants have grown beyond their pan-Asian menus and South Bay roots, with Wildcraft Pizza in Culver City and the recently opened second location of Little Sister, plopped into the heart of downtown L.A. (and serving a full breakfast). He says the latter is the restaurant he's always dreamed of opening. “In many ways, it embodies my journey as a chef,” he says.
With most of his restaurants existing west of the 405, we asked the SGV lifer (Vuong still lives in Alhambra) about his favorite spots to eat when he's back on home turf. Here are his top eight.
“Honestly, I really like the standard club sandwich there. It’s just easy. It’s the last thing you’d think, but it’s the best. The restaurant is open till 4 a.m., which is great for me since I’m usually working until late at night. I also love the baked pork chop with fried rice and crappy cheese. It’s nostalgic and always good. I equate Tasty Garden with a Chinese version of Norm's.” 288 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 300-8262.
Pepe's Mexican Food
“Pepe’s is the best quick-and-dirty spot to satisfy my Mexican food cravings. I've been going here since the sixth grade.” 511 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 289-8618.
Baccali Cafe & Rotisserie
“One of my favorite Hong Kong–style cafes. Don’t ask questions, just ask for the No. 2.” 245 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 293-3300.
“Dim sum is a staple of SGV dining, and Elite is a strong, solid spot.” 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (626) 282-9998.
Bánh Mì My Tho
“Been going to this mom-and-pop place since grade school. Inexpensive and the best place to grab a bánh mì.” 304 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 289-4160, banhmimytho.com.
“My favorite dish here is the Hainan chicken and rice.” 138 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 308-9535.
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
“Awesome Vietnamese restaurant. The decor is straight from Costco and the food straight from Saigon. Get the bun bo hue.” 1700 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 943-7645.
“They’re famous for their pastrami and with good reason. Their pastrami sandwich is killer.” 1 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 282-0140, thehat.com.