I love lil Saigon and I go there at least twice a month, sometimes, once a week, which is why when I saw this place at The Camp, immediate skepticism hit me. I love Vietnamese food! I’m just not sure I love having a shi shi Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of, well, THE CAMP!
I was certain it was going to be over-rated, mediocre, hyped up and just to prove myself right, I got two of my friends together and went down there just so we could order the whole menu.
Holly, Selene and I arrived early and well, although we didn’t order the entire menu, we ordered plenty! As you might have guessed, I arrived already pre-judging the place and I was determined to dislike it.
The gal at the counter was very pleasant! Drats! Why can’t you be surly like everyone else in lil Saigon? After ordering, we found an available table, took a seat and chatted while waiting for the food. My plan wasn’t working — the staff is friendly and we certainly liked the atmosphere…. I mean what’s not to like? But how about the food?
We ordered Traditional Spring Roll ($4.50/2 rolls or $6.25/3 rolls) with pork and shrimp (although there are also chicken and shrimp or tofu) and is accompanied with the pre-requisite hoisin sauce like you get in lil Saigon.
Of course, these were pricier than what you will find in Westminster, by about 50 cents to $1 more, but I remind myself that rent is higher and I’ve saved on gas. They were decent and I liked the hoisin sauce a lot.
Grapefruit Lemongrass Salad ($7.35) was innovative, tasty and refreshing, especially if you are watching your carb intake. Lemongrass infused chicken is served over carrots and cabbage and topped with grapefruit and cilantro. The dressing is awesome — a citrus vinaigrette which is similar to nuoc mam but without the obvious taste of fish sauce and the sesame cracker added a nice crispy component to the salad. It is simply delicious.
For the bun, or Vermicelli Noodles ($7.35), you can go vegetarian by choosing tofu instead of grilled pork, but we wanted meat! There was a good amount of lettuce, cucumbers, mint leaves and crushed peanuts, but just a little too much noodles when compared to the accompaniments. You also get a small egg roll with this entree but it wasn’t enough to offset the massive amount of vermicelli.
Banh Mi were $4.35 for an 8-inch and $6.40 for a 12-inch. We ordered grilled pork which is beautifully seasoned with bits of do chua (pickled radish and carrots) and cilantro in between the baguette — which, incidentally, isn’t hard and didn’t cut the roof of my mouth like it usually does when I eat banh mi. My only gripe is that there isn’t enough filling, but otherwise, very tasty indeed.
Beef Stew ($6.95) was piping hot when it arrived, a bowl of hearty, rich broth with tender beef, sweet carrots and potato.
Garnished with cilantro, lime and onions, the stew isn’t greasy at all and possessed a heady star-anise flavor which I so love. It is served with a baguette, and the best part is that the beef isn’t fatty or grisly at all, nor was the baguette hard and dry.
There were other items on the menu such as curry which I’ve yet to try but for now, East Borough is a definite “like” for me. Service is great, food is stellar and I can get there in 10 minutes! As long as I can find parking at The Camp, it’s all good!
2937 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626