Xanh Bistro is located in new strip mall on the south end of Little Saigon, North America’s largest enclave of Vietnamese Americans. Chef-owner Haley Nguyen is a cooking instructor who previously owned a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado. In late 2007, she opened this modern Vietnamese bistro, which easily outpaced our expectations.
Xanh means “green” in Vietnamese. No surprise, the bistro’s walls are green. The kitchen is also separated from the dining area with a row of green bamboo. Not everything is green. The east wall hosts a black-and-white photograph that Nguyen took in Vietnam.
Xanh Bistro’s food packed plenty of flavor, but they still supplied four condiments, including a homemade burnt-orange pepper paste loaded with roasted red pepper skins and seeds. The paste sported intimidating color, but imparted balanced flavor that wasn’t disabling. There were also containers of whole green chilies and two varieties of fish sauce, one a deep dark color, and a lighter-hued one floating with diced garlic.
Goi Hoa Chuoi ($7.95) – Banana Blossom Salad – featured a mammoth pile of banana blossom strands, julienned carrot, red pepper and pickled daikon. There were also sheets of grilled pork, firm shrimp, aromatic mint leaves, chopped peanuts and sesame seeds. The salad was tossed with house-made lime-cilantro dressing. The idea was to pile salad on crisp sesame-studded rice crackers, bite down and crunch. It was a refreshing salad on a hot summer day.
Bo Hoang Gia ($14.95) – 5-Spice Beef Short Ribs – were slow-cooked on the bone until fork tender (it’s a cliché but it was true in this case). The rich meat was decoratively plated over bitter garlic-slathered mustard greens and topped with fried carrot strands, which soaked up the meat jus.
Cá kho to ($12.95) meant whitefish fillets slow-cooked in a hot metal dish. The tender fish soaked up its bath of peppery caramel sauce. Our friendly waitress instructed us to pile on the steamed white rice, which cut the intensity of the sauce.
Our meal was flavorful, artfully plated and surprisingly affordable considering the generous portions. Xanh Bistro’s menu isn’t as deep as some better-known Vietnamese dining options in Westminster and Garden Grove, but those restaurants don’t have Haley Nguyen’s focus. The only downside: we didn’t have room for dessert.