Quan Hy is a standout Vietnamese restaurant through Today Plaza's arch.
Frustrated insurance man Bao Ton opened this sleek restaurant with his family in 2003. Bao smartly relied on his mother’s central Vietnamese recipes. Little Saigon has never been the same. The sprawling epicenter for authentic Vietnamese food in the U.S. has spawned several fashionable imitators, but none can match Quan Hy’s big flavors or low prices. Quan Hy means “happy” in Vietnamese, and that’s exactly what you’ll be after a meal there.
Two big fish tanks divide the stylish dining room. A bridged, bamboo-lined goldfish pond resides by the entrance. Since it’s holiday time, the pond-adjacent bamboo forest included a Christmas tree and lanterns. The lone tree decoration: a miniature replica of Orange County Department of Environmental Health’s “A” letter grade.
Other notable design elements included shelves of Vietnamese pottery and woodwork, mounted Vietnamese stringed instruments, and a large panoramic black-and-white photograph of a castle in Hue, where Bao’s parents are from.
Cha Gio ($8) were golden-fried rolls featuring thin rice paper wrappers filled with luscious crab, shrimp, pork and green onions. They were served with a plate of pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber slices, lettuce and herbs for wrapping. I avoided the greenery, opting to dip the rolls directly into a dish of fish sauce seasoned with finely chopped garlic and both red and green chiles. Cha gio weren’t quite as ethereal as I remember them in the past, but they were still in Southern California’s egg roll upper echelon.
Bun Thit Bo Nuong Dac Biet ($8.45) featured rice vermicelli with thin-sliced grilled beef, shrimp and shrimp cakes, plus little piles of crisp bean sprouts, sesame seeds, grilled onions, chile paste, green onions, cilantro, jalapeño slices, and pickled carrots and daikon. Below the surface was Romaine lettuce. We mixed everything together and poured on some more seasoned fish sauce.
Goi Mit ($10) mixed firm, flesh-colored jackfruit with halved shrimp, pork belly strips, scallions, cilantro, shaved onions and grilled onions. We piled the mix on crispy rice crackers studded with black sesame seeds.
Com Ca Chien Bo Sa Lach ($8.45) featured perfectly moist butter-cooked salmon fillet served with steamed rice and Romaine salad with jalapeño slices, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers and tomatoes. With the fish, we received a small bowl of seemingly simple soup flavored effectively with cabbage, scallions, herbs, salt, pepper and minced shrimp.
For dessert, we opted for crispy sesame-crusted fritters filled with yellow mung bean paste (4 for $2), that were piled high in a case near the cash register. A bite revealed yellow bean paste. The flavor and texture of fritter was outrageously delicious. Not a single fritter survived the ride home.
We each ordered an interesting drink from the long list of beverages. Nuoc Rau Ma ($2.50) was chilled sweetened liverwort juice, made from low-lying plants that look like ferns. It tasted kind of like spinach juice, helped by the massive sugar infusion. Soda Xi Muoi ($2.50) was iced soda water with a bed of pungent preserved plum and sugar granules. Ca Phe Sua Da ($3) was classic take on Vietnamese iced coffee, made with condensed milk.
It had been almost two years since my last meal at Quan Hy. Happily, the quality level was still quite high. On Chowhound.com, posters often turn their backs on ethnic restaurants that have the nerve to display style or achieve popularity. Bao Ton and his family have proven with Quan Hy (and nearby Quan Hop) that popularity doesn’t have to prompt compromise.
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