Phong Dinh: Eating Noah’s Ark in San Gabriel [CLOSED]

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Vietnamese Restaurant Los Angeles

Passersby probably wouldn't know that Phong Dinh serves such unique Vietnamese food.

Phong Dinh’s plain exterior doesn’t reveal its exotic nature. The restaurant might be known for giant baked catfish, but there are also whole menu sections devoted to squab, quail, ostrich, rabbit, venison, Australian kangaroo, goat, boar, Florida gator, frog, ark shell, water snake, snail, and more. Amazingly, since my last visit, only one animal was declared illegal and stricken from the menu: fox. I had it, and while it was interesting, taste buds won’t exactly suffer from its absence. Strangely, most of the animals come from Illinois.

Vietnamese Restaurant Los Angeles

Phong Dinh features lacquered Vietnamese art on the walls, fish tanks with the only animals that are off limits, and large tables with lazy Susans.

Vietnamese Food Los Angeles

We started with traditional Cha Gio, Vietnamese egg rolls filled with pork, shrimp and crab. I’ve certainly tasted Cha Gio with higher-grade ingredients, but crisp skins and tender interiors went a long way toward overcoming the deficiency.

Vietnamese Food Los Angeles

We went wild with thin-sliced, grill-it-yourself Australian kangaroo marinated in a flavorful house-made paste. Yes, we used all three cubes of butter to grease the griddle, and I’d do it again.

Vietnamese Food Los Angeles

The ‘roo sizzled on the grill. The butter and sauce pooled at the dome’s base. Slightly bitter char-grilled red meat was even better when dipped in the bubbling ooze.

Vietnamese Food Los Angeles

Charbroiled goat spare-ribs were chewy, but flavorful, served au jus so meat stayed moist. The ribs joined a decidedly un-Vietnamese plate of oily macaroni. While not traditional, noodles were still amazing. The broccoli was tender and tasty too, especially after sopping it in goat juice.

Vietnamese Food Los Angeles

Nai Sauce Tieu Tuoi Dot Ruou featured venison chunks sautéed in whole black pepper over a wine flame. The dish featured a dramatic preparation, with our waiter literally igniting the platter of deer meat. Sadly, by the time I reached my camera, the flame was a memory. Post-inferno, the wine sauce may have undergone too much heat, reducing into an unappetizing black sludge that stuck to the metal platter. Amazingly, the meat was still supple and tasty.

Vietnamese Food Los Angeles

A traditional Vietnamese condiment plate features a blend of salt and pepper, plus lime slices. Phong Dinh used lemon wedges. Sprinkling lemon juice over venison chunks, followed by a couple dips in salt and pepper heightened the flavor.

Vietnamese Food Los Angeles

Tho Ro-Ti Com Nep featured on-the-bone chunks of somewhat gamy rabbit meat. As with many Phong Dinh dishes, the rabbit featured an interesting accompaniment. In this case: pan-fried glutinous rice cakes topped with crumbled peanut and diced scallions. The scallion and peanut combo is a traditional Vietnamese topping that graced the rabbit as well. The tan soy bean sauce was a little too pungent for my taste; the dish worked better without it.

Vietnamese Dessert Los Angeles

We traveled to Phong Dinh to celebrate Charles Heit’s birthday, and they “treated” our table to a plate of Jell-o chunks layered with condensed milk, topped with a single birthday candle.

This dessert will never rival chocolate cake in the U.S. (and it shouldn’t), but it was nice of Phong Dinh’s staff to celebrate Charles’ big day. They even sang “Happy Birthday.”


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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