Pity the other publications in the stable o' stallions that is Village Voice Media, because they have to come up with a list like this, too--and they don't have Little Saigon sitting smack dab in the middle of their publication area. How do we choose from the hundreds--yes, multiple hundreds--of Vietnamese restaurants in Orange County? We could write one of these top-ten lists just based on banh mi. We already pretty much did write one about pho. We could even critique the top ten bowls of bun bo Hue, the top ten seven courses of beef, or the top ten nem nuong cuon in the county... so instead, here's a representative sampling, and make sure you add your favorites in the comments section!
HONORABLE MENTION: Break of DawnThe Pioneer of South County
Why just an honorable mention? Because Break of Dawn isn't really a Vietnamese restaurant; it's a great restaurant run by a Vietnamese chef, with Vietnamese flavors welded expertly with French, Mexican, Hawaiian, etc. It deserves a spot on this list if for no other reason than the papaya salad spiked with Vietnamese herbs that accompanies Portuguese sausage and fried rice--but mostly because it's awesome.24351 Avenida de la Carlota, Laguna Hills; 949-587-9418; breakofdawnrestaurant.com.10. Thach Che Hien KhanhYou Put De Spoon In De Coconut
|Javier Cabral / OC Weekly|
While you might get a small cup of che ba mau--three-bean coconut pudding, where "pudding" is a generous term for the liquid texture of the most popular Vietnamese dessert--in any Vietnamese restaurant, at Hien Khanh they specialize in dozens of varieties of che, from bananas to sweet potatoes to rice balls to jelly squiggles, all doused in sweet coconut cream. If you've overdone it on the chile sauces in the condiment tray at dinner, head for Hien Khanh to cool the fire for shockingly low prices.9639 Bolsa Ave., Westminster; 714-839-8143.
9784 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove; 714-537-5105; no website.9. Com Tam Tran Quy CapMountains of Toppings
Devotees of the huge platters of broken rice know to head to this standby for soft egg-and-pork pie called cha, snappy bits of sweet sausage, squares of shrimp paste fried inside crunchy tofu skin, boiled pork tossed with toasted rice powder, and grilled meats of every description, all set over a fragrant pile of rice with the texture of couscous. Add your vegetables, some chiles, and a bowl of soup, and you've got lunch for two days.16175 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley; 714-418-1333.
10522 McFadden Ave., Garden Grove; 714-839-3069; no website.8. Quan HyThe Zen Oasis of Central Vietnam
Walk over the indoor stream at Quan Hy and you'll see this is no hole in the wall; it's meant to evoke a feeling of Zen broken only by servers whisking food to tables... and that food! While it's best known for its sticky rice dishes, the best things on the menu are actually the salads, especially the jackfruit salad spiked with tart shredded banana flowers and pungent herbs.9727 Bolsa Ave., Westminster; 714-775-7179; no website.