A Taste of Vietnamese Cuisine in Little Saigon, California

Updated on April 23, 2020
punacoast profile image

The author lives in a quiet seaside community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler, and photographer.


Little Saigon in Orange County, California (approximately 45 miles south of Los Angeles) boasts the oldest and largest Vietnamese expat community in the United States. It’s a vibrant cultural and commercial center of the state. It’s also a major tourist attraction.

Many visitors are drawn to Little Saigon because of the abundant availability of Vietnamese food. There are hundreds of bakeries, cafes, and restaurants, most of which are located on Bolsa Avenue, which runs through the heart of Little Saigon. Vietnamese Americans from out of state flock here to enjoy the delicious food that remind them of their home country. Other visitors include Vietnamese cuisine lovers and foodies who come searching for a terrific bowl of pho and other traditional authentic Vietnamese dishes—without having to jump on a plane heading to Vietnam!

Vietnamese food is distinctive, fresh, and simple. A typical Vietnamese dish usually has rice noodles served with grilled meat or fish. It often involves some sort of hot broth prepared by simmering beef or pork bones and spices. Most dishes come with a heaping serving of rau thom (literally “fragrant herbs”) like cilantro, mint, basil, rau tia to (perilla), along with mung bean sprouts and lime wedges. Nuoc cham, or Vietnamese dipping sauce—made with fish sauce, lime juice, minced garlic, and chili peppers—is also a must-have accompaniment for many dishes.

Pho Bo
Pho Bo | Source

1. Phở

Pho is the national dish of Vietnam. It has become quite popular not only in the U.S. but also around the world. For most people, when someone mentions Vietnamese food, pho is the first thing that comes to mind. A bowl of pho consists of flat rice noodles, slices of tender beef or chicken, onion, scallion, and a steamy hot broth infused with ginger, clove and cinnamon. Accompanied by fresh bean sprouts, basil, ngo gai (cilantro), and a squeeze of lime juice, pho is unforgettable! There are many pho restaurants in Little Saigon, some have attracted an army of loyal fans from near and far. Try Pho Quang Trung, they’re known for their pho ga di bo or free-range chicken pho.

Tip: When ordering pho at any restaurant in Little Saigon, stick with either SMALL or MEDIUM size bowl. Unless you have the appetite of an elephant, a LARGE bowl is grotesquely huge!

Banh Mi
Banh Mi | Source

2. Bánh Mì Thịt

Banh mi thit, or Vietnamese sandwich, is a perfect example of French influence in Vietnamese cuisine. It consists of a warm, crusty baguette stuffed with French butter and pâté, slices of cha lua or Vietnamese pork sausage (also barbecue pork or rotisserie chicken), along with pickled daikon and carrot, sliced cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeno peppers. A staple choice for breakfast or lunch, banh mi thit ranks second only to pho in popularity. Just like pho, there are many banh mi sandwich shops in Little Saigon. Try Banh Mi Che Cali or Lee’s Sandwiches—both have several locations.

Goi Cuon Tom
Goi Cuon Tom | Source

3. Gỏi Cuốn

Goi cuon (literally “salad roll”) is as fresh and healthy as it can be for Vietnamese food! Lettuce, mint, cilantro, bean sprouts, rice noodles, and cooked shrimps (tofu or avocado may be substituted for a vegetarian option) are all wrapped in thin, translucent rice papers. You may order this dish at almost any Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon. It is often served as a cold appetizer with peanut sauce.

Nem Nuong
Nem Nuong | Source

4. Nem Nướng Cuốn

This is similar to goi cuon, except nem nuong rolls are usually served warm, with grilled pork or shrimp fillings. Marinated pork and shrimp are first ground into a thick paste, formed into balls, then grilled over an open fire with skewers made out of lemongrass or sugarcane sticks. It is often served with a sweet and sour nuoc cham made from tamarind pulp, hoisin sauce, peanut butter, minced garlic and chili peppers. The most famous nem nuong restaurant in Little Saigon is Brodard. Expect very long waiting line on weekends!

Goi Ngo Sen Tom Thit
Goi Ngo Sen Tom Thit | Source

5. Gỏi Ngó Sen Tôm Thịt

This is a refreshing salad made with shredded carrot and cucumber, lotus stems, sliced onion, dried jellyfish, cooked shrimp and pork. It is usually garnished with mint, perilla, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), roasted peanuts, and served with fried rice crackers. Pour the nuoc cham sauce over the salad, toss up and enjoy! Try this salad at Brodard—it’s the perfect dish to go with nem nuong rolls.

Banh Cuon
Banh Cuon | Source

6. Bánh Cuốn

These delicate rice crepes are made from spreading thin rice flour batter on a cheese cloth suspended over a pot of boiling water (the hot steam cooks the batter). Filled with a mixture of sautéed ground pork, wood ear mushroom and shallot, these crepes are then folded into neat rolls. It is perhaps the most complicated Vietnamese dish to make! Martha Stewart once made this dish on her TV cooking show. Banh cuon is usually served with slices of cha lua or Vietnamese pork sausage, shredded cucumber, crispy fried shallots, bean sprouts, cilantro and nuoc cham sauce. Head to Banh Cuon Tay Ho on Bolsa Ave for this fantastic dish.

Banh Xeo
Banh Xeo | Source

7. Bánh Xèo

Banh xeo is named for the loud sizzling sound it makes when pouring rice flour batter onto a hot skillet. It’s like a big omelet stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp, pork, and onion. Turmeric powder in the batter gives banh xeo an exquisite golden glow! It's served with lots of fresh herbs, pickled carrot and daikon. To eat: use a lettuce leaf to roll up a piece of banh xeo and some fresh herbs, then dip into nuoc cham and take a bite! Brodard Chateau is a sophisticated restaurant in Little Saigon that serves gorgeous plates of banh xeo.

Banh Beo
Banh Beo | Source

8. Bánh Bèo

These savory steamed rice cakes are topped with shredded dried shrimp, mung bean paste, and crispy fried shallots. They are often served in a set of 8 or 10 small round cups. To eat: use chopsticks or spoon to loosen a banh beo cake from its cup, dip in nuoc cham, and then pop it in your mouth! Quan Hy and Quan Vy Da are the places to go for these dainty, tasty little cakes.

Banh Bot Loc
Banh Bot Loc | Source

9. Bánh Bột Lọc

These are chewy, translucent dumplings made from tapioca flour and corn starch, with shrimp and pork fillings. Green scallion sautéed in hot oil (called hanh mo) is spread over the dumplings before serving. The hanh mo adds a distinct flavor to this dish and also keeps the dumplings from sticking together. A sweet and spicy nuoc cham accompanies banh bot loc. Again, Quan Hy and Quan Vy Da are the top restaurants for this dish. People usually enjoy it together with banh beo.

Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong
Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong | Source

10. Bún Chả Giò Thịt Nướng

This traditional street food is a favorite among the late-night hipster crowds in Little Saigon! Thanh My—a nice restaurant on Bolsa Ave which is open until 2AM—dishes up the best bowl! Cha gio are Vietnamese fried eggrolls. Thit nuong is grilled pork (also beef or chicken). A bowl of bun cha gio thit nuong consists of several layers: shredded lettuce, mint, cilantro, and bean sprouts on the bottom; rice noodles in middle; eggrolls and grilled meat go on top. It is garnished with roasted peanuts, pickled daikon and carrot. Pour nuoc cham over the whole thing, mix well and bon appétit! Another version of this dish is called bún chả Hà Nội, where the grilled meat comes in a separate bowl filled with fish sauce and rice vinegar. President Obama once tried this dish with CNN’s Anthony Bourdain at a restaurant in Vietnam. He liked it.

When It Comes to Food, Research Is Important!

I did a whirlwind “eating tour” of Little Saigon! My favorite dish is pho. I sampled several popular pho restaurants, trying to rate which one has the best pho in Little Saigon. I still can't come up with the verdict!

© 2016 Viet Doan


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      3 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thank you Blond Logic! Glad you enjoy the hub. California is a great place, from beautiful scenery to friendly people. And so many wonderful ethnic food!

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      3 years ago from Brazil

      Thanks for that whirlwind tour of Little Saigon. I am from California but never had the opportunity to go there.

      The food looks delicious, and much healthier than my favorite dishes of Mexican food.

      This is one thing I love about the US and especially California, the fact that they openly welcome and accept the foods from other countries.

      Great images and explanations.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, delishably.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)