5. Ngu Binh:
Ngu Binh chef-owner Mai Tran, a native of the central Vietnamese town of Thua Thien, named their restaurant for a mountain in Hue. Ngu Binh resides in a strip mall at the corner of Bolsa & Magnolia and even after a move across the parking lot, remains a high volume restaurant that serves high value food. The streamlined menu features plenty of ingredient overlap, and consistently delivers flavorful rice cakes, soups and plates that display an array of flavors and textures.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Banh Beo Chen, Banh Banh It Kep Banh Ram, Mi Quang Dac Biet, Bun Bo Hue Dac Biet,
Chuyen Nguyen and wife Thuy opened Nuoc Mia Vien Tay in 1996, specializing in fresh pressed sugar cane. The couple hails from Saigon, where Vien Dong Nuoc Mia is the city’s most famous sugar cane juice store. Nuoc Mia means “sugar cane juice” and Vien Dong (“far east”) was taken, and so they opted for Vien Tay (“far west”). The Nguyens lease land in the Imperial Valley to grow sugar cane. To make juice, they repeatedly run stalks of cane through an electric press. Tiny, tart kumquats are sandwiched between the stalks. The resulting juice empties into a pitcher, which is then poured through a strainer two or three times to catch stray pieces of cane. The green nectar is sold in small and large Styrofoam cups, poured over ice.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Nuoc Mia
7. Phat Ky Mi Gia:
Phat Truong opened Phat Ky Mi Gia in 1987 and runs the restaurant with nephew Vincent. Truong also has a restaurant in Saigon, run by his brother in law. The Stateside branch resides in a Little Saigon strip mall and stays open until 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The space has red walls, and the restaurant specializes in Chiu Chow style noodle soups filled with hearty combos like black mushrooms and duck, or oxtails with goji berries, greens, bean curd sheets, and fermented bean curd dipping sauce.
MUST ORDER DISHES: My Vit Tiem, Mi Duoi Bo
8. Pho Dakao:
Most pho establishments in Little Saigon showcase beef broth, but the base ingredient occasionally strays to other beasts. Pho Dakao, named for a Saigon neighborhood well known for street food, has two locations that specialize in Vietnamese chicken dishes. The boxy white building has blue accents, tile flooring, glass on all sides, and a greenhouse-like covered patio. People come to Pho Dakao for the food though, not décor. One of the great things about Little Saigon is Vietnamese variety, and that not every place plays to type. Yes, beef pho can be great, but apparently so can chicken pho, especially when the bowls aren’t limited to cuts of poultry you’d find at places like El Pollo Loco.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Pho Ga Long, Pho Ga Kho Long