Mint & Basil
1741 N. Milpitas Blvd.
Milpitas, CA 95035
A couple of weeks ago, Irene at TJ’s Tacos LA brought our attention to a taco pop-up event (2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month) being held at a local bar. The name may not say much, but the headline, Vietnamese-style tacos, sure caught our attention. The word Vietnamese immediately piqued our interest, because of our shared love of Southeast Asian flavors. Viet tacos, say what?
Nha Trang is a Vietnamese restaurant embedded deep inside a narrow strip mall on Valley Blvd., a stone’s throw away from my childhood home in San Gabriel. Nha Trang gets name from a seaside city in South Vietnam, but it’s really just known for 2 kinds of noodle soup: bun bo Hue (originates in central Vietnam) and bun rieu. The place itself is small and cramped. Parking can be difficult. Nonetheless, people are always willing to wait because their noodles are good.
My colleague is on a mission to eat phở in all 50 states, and is documenting and reviewing each visit! Her ranking reviews take into consideration taste, service, portion size, garnish selection, cleanliness of restaurant, among other things. All these factors into how excellent the phở experience is.
Her “What is Phở?” page gives a comprehensive overview of the dish that the Vietnamese culture is most popular for.
You can also check out some other articles relating to phở, like “Urban Legends: MSG,” to find out if MSG will really kill you or not.
Join her at her blog to check it out, maybe she’ll visit a phở shop near you. Definitely will entice any phở-lover’s interest.
My House Korean BBQ & Hot Pot
3465 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
$19.99 for AYCE Kbbq AND hot pot!? NICE. Parking at this plaza is valet, which is $2.00 with validation from the restaurant, or you can try your luck with street parking, but we went on a weekend. This plaza has a bunch of restaurants and nightclubs, so it’s very popular. This restaurant is new, very roomy and decorated with a modern lounge feel. It wasn’t too crowded when we went at 8pm on a Saturday evening. The owner is the same owner as the club Belasco, so the music and vibe of the place feels like a club. Except with all you can eat food!! The service is exceptional, we had a waiter named Steven who was the best waiter I have ever had at any Korean restaurant. There were also some other staff who helped us, and everyone spoke English fluently, were polite, and didn’t rush us at all. I couldn’t believe how wonderful they were and how quickly they brought out the food, always checking on us and changing our grills constantly.
The $19.99 kbbq and hot pot deal works this way: your table has to eat kbbq first, and when you’re done, you can switch to hot pot, but there is no going back. That was probably the only pitfall of this deal, because it’s hard to enjoy hot pot when you’re already so full.
The KBbq choices came with the standard beef brisket, marinated beef, pork belly, short rib, spicy pork, and some other bbq marinated meats, and baby octopus (which I can’t eat). These meats were very high quality, with little fat on and it melted in your mouth, the marinated choices were very yummy, super tender, and not salty at all. I asked for 2 slices of pork belly to try, and unfortunately it was 90% fat, so that is one item you should not get here. The meat choices that stood out to me were the Vietnamese marinated shrimp and the Vietnamese lemon grass beef, since I’ve never been to a Kbbq place that served this, but I was pretty disappointed since the shrimp didn’t taste like anything but shrimp, and the lemon grass on the beef was not infused enough, so it wasn’t anything special to me. We also tried the beef tongue, which I didn’t like, it had a really weird kind of leathery taste to it. Not appetizing to me. We didn’t get to try the wine pork and the pork neck, but judging from the fat on the pork belly, it was probably a good thing we didn’t try it.
The hot pot comes with two broths, a spicy Thai-style one, and a miso-style one. The Thai one was very spicy for me, but we all know how horribly my tolerance is. It kind of tasted like instant ramen broth, a little too salty. The miso broth was very good, I mixed some of the spicy broth in it and added a lot of the peanut dipping sauce, which I loved. We got spinach, tofu, imitation crab, beef balls, fish balls, inoki mushroom and sliced catfish for the hot pot. Everything was standard and nothing too special, but the catfish was really tender and fresh, no fishy smell. I know it’s one of the cheapest fishes to get, but it was still nice to eat fresh fish.
We got a complimentary bottle of beer and plenty of banchan and rice paper to keep us full, so we didn’t need to order rice. This place does not give you free steamed egg, they charge $2.99 I believe. I didn’t walk out feeling like my pores were sweating oil and bbq because this place has very good ventilation. We sat in an area that was inside, but the windows were just screens so it let the smell out and didn’t leave us with teary eyes from the smoke. Overall, it’s a pretty good place if you want kbbq and hot pot, but I do wish they had a sauce stand or something so we can mix our own sauces like at the bbq & hot pot restaurants I go to in NorCal. The choices are plentiful if you want to splurge a little, and the services is amazing. It was worth trying just to see, but I think I will just stick to $9.99 kbbq when I visit SoCal from now on.
Pork babyback ribs were on sale for $1.99 at our military grocery store, so my parents bought this sweet rack for less than $12. I saw this recipe on youtube and wanted to give it a try, doubled the amount of everything since my rack of ribs was twice as big as the one she had in the video. I couldn’t find brown sugar and I didn’t want to go buy some so I just used white sugar instead. The recipe asks for hot chili garlic sauce but I couldn’t find that in my fridge either so I just used sriracha sauce and minced garlic.
Ingredients for marinade:
- 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
- 1/2 shao hsing wine (rice cooking wine)
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp sriracha
Ingredients for basting sauce:
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
After cleaning the ribs, trimming the fat and cutting it into pieces that would fit a giant plastic ziploc for marinade, I rubbed the ribs with salt and washed it, this gets rid of any unpleasant smells in the meat. I mixed all the marinade in a small bowl and tasted it before pouring it into the container with the meat and rubbing it in. I then put all the meat in one ziploc bag, squeezed all the air out, and closed it. I marinated it in the fridge over night, turning the bag over in the morning so the marinade soaks everything evenly.
I baked it exactly according to how the recipe states, except I pulled out some of the smaller pieces early so they wouldn’t overcook and turn into jerky. I microwaved the basting sauce a little to make it easier to baste the meat as well.
One thing I would do differently if I cook this again is add more garlic sriracha in the marinade, and change the basting ratio to have more hoisin and less honey. The end product was very delicious, the ribs were moist with that classic char siu flavor that wasn’t salty and just sweet enough, and it had a slight char on the edges that were SO yummy to chew on. My family loved it, and they’re very hard to please. It’s a little time consuming on the cooking end, since it took 3 hours and I had to flip it and baste it, but WELL worth it in the end.
In all honesty, my sis and I were scavenging Yelp for cheap eats around the area and stumbled upon Pho Every 1, a recently opened Vietnamese resto off Colima Road. They were offering $3.99 specials on the chicken pho and Hainan chicken rice at the time. At such low prices, we weren’t expecting much from the food, just something to fill our stomachs. But we were pleasantly surprised by what we found there. Vietnamese restaurants are pretty rare in the Rowland Heights area.
The chicken pho (phở gà) came steaming hot, with a side of fresh bean sprouts and basil. The soup was delicious, light and crisp, and pungent with spices. The meat was a bit bony for me, but I happily gnawed away at all the protein left on the bones. The Hainan chicken rice was alright, nothing to write home about. The presentation was surprisingly nice, with a side of pickled carrots and turnips (the kind usually found in banh mi sandwiches). But the 3 traditional dipping sauces (kecap or soy sauce, ginger and chili sauces) were not provided. It was a bit awkward for me to eat without these requisites, so I found the dish a bit bland.
Pho Every 1
18977 Colima Ave
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
By far the biggest complaint about Vietnamese food—not the restaurants, but the food—is that it’s full of scary, squiggly bits. Yes, you can get phở tái (rare slices of filet mignon) or phở chín (brisket), but you’re missing out on some of the seminal parts of phở. By complaining about it, you’re reducing your credibility—and if you really hate all those internal bits of non-steak meat, please don’t order them. Chicken with bones in is tastier than boneless chicken (and if you’re one of those people for whom even chicken drumsticks are too exotic, you are frankly beyond help).
To our f00dcoma followers and for any of our avid yelpers out there,
Just an article regarding Vietnamese cuisine that I came across via Nicole. It brings up a lot of valid points about the subjective side of reviews and the misunderstandings foodies come across when they don’t dine with an open mind.
Cơm tấm, or ‘broken rice’, is literally made out of broken rice grains, served with a variety of Vietnamese entrees.
At Com Tam Thuan Kieu, very popular among Vietnamese folks in the San Gabriel area, you can choose your sides. My sister and I opted for grilled pork and 7 sides (a fried egg roll, steamed egg, shrimp cakes, pickled vegetables), for only $7.99.
The dish came with 2 bowls of meaty soup and was enough to feed the both of us.
Com Tam Thuan Kieu
120 E Valley Blvd Ste I & J
San Gabriel, CA 91776
I totally forgot where I ate this but I was craving it while in the OC looking for a banquet venue and my friend took me here. But just LOOK at the size of it! It was like $6 for this huge golden crepe (English name for it) that was at least a foot in diameter. Basically it’s like a crispy pancake mix with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts inside. You eat it with your hands and what you do is break it apart, wrap it in lettuce with some other veggies, dip it in fish sauce and enjoy! It is so satisfying, but I don’t recommend ordering it if you’re on a date haha. I’m going to try and make some next year but no guarantees it’s going to be good like this one.
Vung Tau II Vietnamese Restaurant
I had lunch here last week and it’s one of those restaurants my family has been going to for ages. The food is amazing and they get really busy during the weekends, so going for lunch on a weekday is a good idea. I ordered tomato rice with korean ribs and my friends each got a different rice plate instead of ordering family style, which they have too. This was really good, the korean ribs almost compares to my mom’s and it wasn’t too fatty even though I had to take some of the fat out. The rice was perfect, I’ve never had good tomato rice and I was skeptical about it but it wasn’t dry and had enough flavor that went really well with the korean ribs. The side of kimchi wasn’t really kimchi but more like pickled cabbage and it wasn’t that great. Overall I loved the ribs and I could only finish half the plate. I think it costed around $8 but I could be wrong. Good place for some Vietnamese food (even though mine was obviously not Viet).
Restaurant Review: Nem Nuong in Rosemead
Two of my friends from back home took me to this little, Vietnamese restaurant near Rosemead High School. Let me tell you, I’ve lived here for a really long time, and I honestly never noticed this place until they pointed it out.
I had the boys order for me, since they were the ones who were craving food. They ordered this thing called Banh Beo, which came with individual amounts in small plates. It was really good! It was my first time eating it, and I’ve never seen or heard of it before. Great choice guys! I definitely liked the texture of the dish and also the sauce that goes with it. It’s cute, and fun to eat!
We also ordered shrimp and pork spring rolls, which were really great! They had a nice crunch to it, and also they were rather filling. I loved the sauce that went with the spring rolls. This orange sauce is something I’ve never tried before, so i was surprised to find it was a great combination.
The prices for the spring rolls were around 6-7 dollars, which I think is a bit much just for spring rolls. (But I could be spoiled because of Nicole)
I give this place a rating of 4/5
Resto Review: Van Nuys’ Pho So 1
This was my first time eating pho because I don’t eat beef. I guess this says a lot, probably being the only Asian who grew up in the 626, land of pho places, not having eaten pho until I turned 20. So I ordered the pho ga (chicken pho), which was generous in portion and pretty tasty, all for under $7. I like that the bean sprouts give the noodle soup some crunchy texture. But I wasn’t pleased to find undissolved salt and MSG particles at the bottom of the bowl. Isn’t pho’s soup base supposed to be light and delicate?
I also got a cafe sua da, condensed milk iced coffee, Viet style. Now this was good, as usual. They serve it the authentic way, with a small drip filter, not like banh mi shops, with hundreds of cups prefilled with condensed milk. Although for $2.50, I expected more coffee than that, regardless of how strong it is.
Josie and Nicole got the regular pho, with a raw-looking slab of beef in it. I don’t know how it tasted, but yeah. Didn’t look too appetizing anyway. 🙂
Ca phe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk)
Strong, rich and sweet. Just the way I like it.
Vietnamese coffee is made in the cutest way possible. A tiny drip filter so that the brewed coffee drips into a pool of rich condensed milk. $2.50 at Pho So 1.
I think I’m going to keep a look out for one of these contraptions so I can start making my own.
Boba Review #3 – Alhambra Banh Mi Che Cali’s ”Jasmine milk tea with pudding”
Price: Buy one get one free, so about $1 per cup. Because I’m a regular, I sort of have an idea of who gives free pudding and who doesn’t, with jasmine milk tea. The tea is indeed very fragrant. It’s like jasmine flowers in bloom. But it’s also quite sweet, which means i have to add quite a lot of milk each time, to even out the taste. Not my favorite, but the pudding (with its flan-like consistency) gives it a good and unusual spin.