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Ever since finding out that Ô Bánh Mì offers pig roast sandwiches every Friday, I’ve been surreptitiously plotting and patiently waiting for a day I could escape my downtown desk and head to Silver Lake for lunch. That day finally came last week.
Ô Bánh Mì is a tiny storefront, tucked behind a stretch of trees on Hyperion Avenue. You can easily drive past and completely miss the neon “O” above the front door (which I did on Friday. Twice.). I arrived promptly at noon, just before Jens, one of the owners, pulled up in his truck, bringing with him the pig that he’d roasted for several hours that morning.
Once inside, I was lucky enough to get a preview of the deliciousness to come, when one of the employees brought over pieces of the pork for my friend and me to try. The meat was tender and juicy, wonderfully enhanced by the crackle of golden skin and permeated with the garlic and herbs that had covered it in the roasting box.
I love potato tacos. A lot of people don’t, and I blame the overwhelming amount of bad potato tacos (soggy, bland, and uninspired) for misrepresenting the entire category. Perhaps my appreciation comes from the fact that I usually make mine at home, giving them an Indian twist with Chef Raghavan Iyer’s smoky yellow dal recipe. This way, I get to bypass most restaurant versions, though I am guilty of pigging out on the greasy bombs they serve over at El Acator #11 after a few drinks and under the cloak of night.
There is one potato taco that recently came onto my radar that actually gives its brethren a good name: the Mashed Curry Potatoes and Carrot Taco at Xoia Vietnamese Eats in Echo Park. This one gets it right for so many reasons. For one, the filling is flavorful thanks to the sweetness of the carrots and, of course, the savory curry, which really pops. The crunch factor is also spot on. The filling of a potato taco is unavoidably mushy, so a certain amount of crunch is necessary—the crispy tortilla and shreds of red cabbage are perfect for the task.
The finishing touches don’t miss, either. Vietnamese coriander, which is similar to cilantro, and a house-made sauce of Oaxacan crema, coconut milk and Sriracha add to the overall flavor. I think about these tacos a lot.
Not bad for $6.99.
If there’s one thing Figueroa Boulevard needs it’s breakfast. There are some notable staples—Antigua Bread, Metro Balderas, La Fuente—but there’s no denying that some new blood is in order. That’s why I was intrigued when I heard that Good Girl Dinette is now serving breakfast! Owner Diep Tran says she labored over the new morning menu, and it shows. The meticulously edited “American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food” menu hits all the necessary sweet and savory notes while offering something novel to the complacent breakfast goer.
Ordering oatmeal at a restaurant is usually a mea culpa for eating three chili dogs the night before. Inspired by chè, a Vietnamese pudding, Tran’s Coconut Oatmeal isn’t useful for such self-flagellation. Steel-cut oats are made creamy and decadent with coconut milk and topped with sweet ginger maple syrup and crushed sesame seeds. The oats are soaked overnight, so they’re only minimally cooked, giving the dish a lightly grainy texture.
My first meal at Xoia Vietnamese Eats elicited a mixed review. I had nothing but love for their beef pho and salsa, but I was a little down on some of their other specialties. In the year since, however, the Mexican-tinged Vietnamese restaurant has really thrived, becoming a worthy mainstay on Echo Park’s Sunset Blvd.
While Xoia’s original menu has come into its own—their Lemongrass Pork Carnitas Bahn Mi even made the Gastronomer’s list of LA’s best Vietnamese sandwiches—their new dishes have rounded things out rather impressively. I’m crazy for their very addictive and outrageously delicious Bunrria, a birria-meets-bún bò Huế dish, complete with rice noodles, slow-pressure steamed red chile beef, and a smokey broth made from said beef. I swear, I dream about that stuff.
If you haven’t given Xoia a try (and even if you have), tomorrow would be a good time to stop in. Xoia will be celebrating its first birthday and you’ll get a free Pho Beef Taco or Vietnamese Coffee when you order an entrée. Yeah!
I always really wanted to like Good Girl Dinette. The look of the Vietnamese diner, complete with its red formica counter, is perfection. The location is everything I could ask for. The ingredients are seasonal, local and sustainable. The staff is friendly. Really, what’s not to love?
Well, for me, the food. I tried GGD on three separate occasions, but I just wasn’t feeling it. It’s not that I hated any of the dishes, but for the longest time, I really didn’t get why so many people (whose food tastes I trust) were going bonkers for this place. And yes, I even tried the chicken pot pie.
I’m happy to announce that I’ve had a change of heart.
Xoia, Echo Park’s new Vietnamese joint, opened to a lot of fanfare last month. So much buzz was to be expected, considering the interesting back story and promise of an exciting new concept—Vietnamese food with Mexican flair (i.e. pho tacos) was bound to spark fascination in the aftermath of Kogi mania.
But buzz will only get you so far. Currently, the actual experience at Xoia doesn’t quite live up to the hoopla, yet there’s a lot of potential here and some definite hits among the misses. As with most new restaurants, there are kinks to be worked out, but if you can tough out the confused service and uneven menu, there are good flavors to be had at Xoia.
We started with the much publicized Pho Beef Tacos. It’s a fun idea and they looked beautiful, but the execution was lacking. Corn tortillas are filled with the beef used to flavor their pho, but the meat was a little limp and too greasy. A little crackle and more robust seasoning were in order. The house-made salsa, however, was delicious—smoky and thick with a nice kick.
Things started to look up with the Banh Xeo, a crepe made with coconut milk and filled with shrimp and pork. The richness was tamed by the crisp freshness of lettuce and bean sprouts, making it a satisfying appetizer.
The Mi Quang (pictured at the top of the post) was good. Hiding underneath lettuce, peanuts and crispy rice crackers, were fat yellow rice noodles, shrimp and pork that tasted like carnitas (that’s a compliment). There’s also a bit of broth in that big bowl.
It’s not easy for Pho-loving Eastsiders to satisfy their desires. Sure, you can head out to San Gabriel Valley for the phenomenal stuff, but that’s not always practical. There are a few options closer by—Gingergrass, Pho Café, Blue Hen and The Good Girl Dinette—but, honestly, none of those places ever really do it for me.
When I’m in need of noodles, and I want to keep it local, I head over to Lemongrass in Eagle Rock. It’s not Golden Deli , but it is solid. The ingredients are quality, the flavors are traditional, the menu is sizeable and the service is friendly…all very necessary components for a go-to neighborhood pho place.
The soup here is very good. It probably won’t blow your mind, but it won’t disappoint either. They serve the standards: rare beef (pictured here), well done beef, meat ball, shrimp, chicken, etc. I usually go for the Rare Beef Pho, but I will say it is a little light on the beef. The noodle to meat ratio is definitely a bit off, but the nice, rich flavor of the broth almost makes up for it.
My other standby is the Vegetarian Pho (pictured at the top of this post), made with lots of baked tofu, bok choy, mushrooms, and vegan broth that tastes like more than just bland, murky water. And that’s no small accomplishment. Lemongrass actually has plenty of tasty vegetarian options, including egg rolls, various vermicelli dishes and their popular Shredded Tofu and Sweet Potato String Sandwich.
The spring rolls are a must at Lemongrass. The ones pictured here are beef and shrimp, but they serve 6 different types, including meaty and veggie varieties. I’ve tried most, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. I know it’s not that tough to make a good spring roll, but the important thing is freshness, and that’s where Lemongrass excels. Somebody, hand me the Sriracha.
They do serve beer, but consider ordering the Vietnamese Lemonade, a tart, bubbly, sugary treat that goes well with everything.
When I lived in Alhambra, I ate my fair share of Vietnamese sandwiches. I tried Lee’s Sandwiches (pretty un-remarkable), Mr. Baguette (much better), and a few others up and down Valley Blvd. until I eventually settled on Baguette Du Jour as my Bánh mì haunt of choice. They make a beautiful baguette, and if you eat the chicken sandwich even once, I swear you’ll crave its spicy/tangy flavor forever….like those vampires on True Blood.
Naturally, I didn’t think I’d ever find a worthy rival for my Bánh mì affections, but The Nom Nom Truck fits the bill. I’m not saying it’s better that du Jour, but it’s on par for sure.I can’t wait to work my way through their menu.
I had the Grilled Pork sandwich per Nom Nom co-owner Misa Chien’s urging. I opted not to dress it with any Sriracha in order to get the pure flavor, and even without the spice, it was so delicious. The sandwiches are huge and stuffed fat with marinated pork, cilantro and pickled carrots and daikon. Plus, it’s slathered with mayo, which usually scares me away, but I loved the way it mixed with the run-off marinade.