My friends and I are always thrilled to check out a new restaurant. My girlfriend who lives in the area spotted this new Vietnamese restaurant and we decided it was going to be our next lunch destination. I meet up with these gals once every few weeks and it’s not only a time for us to share a meal, but also, share the on- goings in our lives we wanted to talk about. Lantern Cafe was a no-frills place located in the same strip mall as The Meat House. The decor is sparse but it was clean and service attentive.
We started with Spring Rolls (Gỏi cuốn $4.50), fresh rolls stuffed with shrimp, pork, vermecelli rolled in rice paper. The accompanying hoisin based sauce is good, topped with crushed peanuts.
The Spring Rolls (chả giò $4.95) are fried perfectly crispy and I like them rolled with the lettuce and cilantro they provide you with on the plate. The nuoc mam dipping sauce is mild and subtle but sufficed especially with a squirt of sriracha.
I saw Lotus Stem Salad (Gỏi Ngó Sen $9.95) on the menu and was immediately excited. Unfortunately, this was the only disappointing dish we ordered (or should I say, “I ordered”) as the lotus stems were scarce and there was a ton of daikon cut the same size as the lotus stem tossed in to make it look like there was more. They were generous with the cha siu (barbecued pork) and shrimp, but I wanted more lotus stem and there wasn’t much of it — yes I picked through it!
We were very excited about Oxtail Pho (Phở Duôi Bò $7.75) on the menu. Very few restaurants outside of Westminster serve oxtail pho, and having said that, only a handful of the thousands of restaurants in Little Saigon offer oxtail pho. The one here is decent and the broth is flavorful. There wasn’t much MSG detected either so that’s a plus!
I’m a huge fan of Claypot Rice (Cơm Tay Cầm $8.75) so to find it here was great. The toppings on the rice were flavorful with chicken, shrimp, and vegetables including baby corn. I was hoping for some crispy rice on the bottom of the claypot but there was none to be found.
Combination Chow Fun (Hủ Tiếu Xào Thập Cẩm $9.50) was actually very tasty albeit some of the noodles were clumped up. One thing I noticed is they do not skimp on ingredients. There was ample chicken, vegetables and cha siu (barbecued pork) on the plate.
The food here is decent. Little Saigon it definitely is not, but when I don’t feel like driving out there, this place suffices, especially when I’m in the mood for oxtail pho.
103 E 17th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627