Don’t let its less-than-photogenic appearance dissuade you. This stuff is seriously good. Tomatoes aren’t something I generally associate with Vietnamese food, but now I’ve officially given up on trying to pin down this cuisine. What do I know?
During my now-mandatory pilgrimages to Little Saigon whenever I’m in the area, I headed to one of the area’s oldest restaurants, Vien Dong. It was a cold, wet day in Southern California (read: 70 degrees and drizzling) and I was in the mood for something warm and comforting.
As I sat down, a waiter brought the table next to me a heaping tower of fried seafood that was promptly wrapped in herbs and lettuce leaves and dunked into a dipping sauce. If I had someone there to help me finish it, I’d have called him over and asked for a plate. But mostly, this little restaurant tucked away in a small strip mall was full of people eating all sorts of rice noodle soups.
Minutes later, the waiter brought a huge, steaming bowl of bun rieu to my table. Rice noodles, fried tofu, and ground crab and shrimp were floating in a rich seafood broth dotted with chunks of tomato and topped with scallions and cilantro. I added some hot sauce to give it some kick, sprinkled in some bean sprouts and topped it with a generous squeeze of lime.
Forget about pho. This isn’t even in the same ballpark. It’s tangy, salty, fishy and rich in a way a clear broth just isn’t. It’s serious comfort food, and a heaping serving for $5.25. If you’re adventurous, you can order the bun rieu oc tom moc which has added meatballs and periwinkle snails. But, I’d suggest it only for the ravenous. I wasn’t able to make it through the whole bowl even without the extra meats. I was intrigued by the snails, though. Maybe next time.
It’s meals like this one and little discoveries like Vien Dong that make me miss living in Orange County. But, life calls back in the District. California, à bientôt.
14271 Brookhurst Street, Garden Grove, CA 92843
Open every day
Tacos, pho and banh mi – Eating in Orange County, CA
Bun Rieu in Saigon – Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Rice Noodle Soup (Ginger and Scotch)
Bun Rieu Cua Crab Noodle Soup (The Ravenous Couple)
Bun Rieu Cua Tom Oc (Vietnamese Crab and Shrimp Paste Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup with Snails) (Wandering Chopsticks)
Vien Dong: Best North Vietnam-style Restaurant – 2012 (OC Weekly)