I take day trips from San Diego to Los Angeles every couple of months mainly to eat and do a little bit of shopping. Mom likes going to all of the Chinese herbal shops in Los Angeles. My Mom recently started getting back in touch with all of her old high school friends, and this place was recommended by a couple of her friends.
We were simply told to check out a Vietnamese restaurant on the corner of New Ave. and Hellman Ave, and when I looked it up I found that i was called Pho Ga Bac-Ninh. I would usually not even think to get Vietnamese food in Monterey Park since the area is better known for Chinese food, but since it was recommended by my Mom’s friend, we checked it out.
When we arrived, I saw a group of people waiting outside in the 100+ degrees (fahrenheit) temperature but apparently they were just outside waiting for people. Yay for no wait! But the restaurant was very busy.
Monterey Park and basically west San Gabriel Valley is an area has a large Asian (Chinese) population and is definitely well known for Chinese food. Did you know, there was once a law that had to be passes to make sure all store fronts in the area had an English name printed as well because there were so many Chinese (Asian) stores that were only labeled in Chinese characters?
Anyways, this Vietnamese restaurant located in Monterey Park had a nice menu set with pictures for almost every item and all written in Chinese, Vietnamese, and English.
We were told to get Bánh Cuốn because the rice rolls are very nice and smooth. Bánh Cuốn literally means rolled cake and is usually minced meat rolled in a thin piece of rice cake/sheet. There are so many different types of rice cake and rice sheets/paper etc in Vietnamese cuisine and what is amazing is that each are prepared for specific things and dishes.
I’ve had Bánh Cuốn in Vietnam (Southern and Northern Vietnam) and here in the US and this actually looked very very different from what I’ve had before. This was definitely very authentic and looked homemade for sure. My mom says, the rice rolls were different from what I’m used to of eating because of the type of rice flour they used. It was smooth, but made a little too thick possible because it was made directly on a wok. I’ve seen people using a piece of cloth over a wok to create a very thin piece.
I also thought it was interesting that it was exactly rolled up in a roll. The Bánh Cuốn came out in a somewhat flat thing, which reminds me of the rice rolls you can get at dim sum restaurants.
I usually don’t get Bánh Cuốn because I’m not a big fan of black pepper, and I often find the filling heavily seasoned with black pepper. And lucky for me, the black pepper flavor wasn’t very strong. The fish sauce was nice, light and cooled us down for the hot summer day.
My least favorite part of this dish was the Vietnamese Pork Roll or Chả Lụa wasn’t very good. The meat should have a relatively nice smooth texture.
Since the place is called Pho Ga Bac Ninh, I guess we just have to get to Pho Ga which is Chicken Pho. Pho is usually made with a beef broth and served with your choice of meat, and for Pho Ga, it’s a chicken soup base served with chicken.
I thought it was interesting our Pho Ga was being served in a big metal bowl which made me a bit suspicious. It reminded me of the cold noodle I would get at Korean restaurants rather then a hot chicken noodle soup. What was nice with these bowls was that we could easily pick up the bowl and it wasn’t very hot but our soup remained hot. I see what they’re trying to do here now.
They don’t use the same pho noodles we would usually get. This is actually a slightly thicker type of noodle, like the ones that I was served at Tim Ky Noodle recently. My aunt told me this is the fresh noodles. The thin ones, are often made in bulk in a factory and can be stored for a long time before being blanched very quickly. And that can turn into an ugly bunch of noodles all stuck together if the soup is not hot enough (every experience that?).
I have always found Pho Ga to be a little too light in flavor for my own liking. So I would usually not order this. Instead I would probably consider just getting the Chicken or the Chicken rice here. We noticed that almost everyone was ordering either a whole/half steamed chicken or Hai-nan Chicken with Rice.
And finally we ordered the Bun Cha Hanoi, which is a dish I actually rarely eat. Bun = Noodle, Cha = Pork, Hanoi = the Capital city of Vietnam. And since my family is not from Hanoi, we don’t really eat this at home very often and most of Vietnamese restaurants I go to are more likely to serve a more Southern Vietnamese style cuisine.
As with most Vietnamese dishes it is served with a large side of vegetables and herbs and a bunch of vermicelli. The most unique part of this dish is the way the meat is served. It is actually grilled pork served sitting in a bowl of sauce. It is far too salty to eat the meat by itself.
You would usually mix the vegetable and the noodles together and eat together to balance all of the flavors together. For a hot day this was really good. The mean is not served hot, since it’s cooled down in the sauce. The noodles are actually served room temperature as well.
Since we were sharing everything, I took the small plate that they used to serve the side of vegetables for the Pho Ga to eat my Bun Cha Hanoi. But of course they serve you will a small bowl on the side to mix everything together.
Pho Ga Bac Ninh (yelp)
605 N New Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91755