I hear about this place from a Yelp friend and venture out to Santa Ana for lunch the following day. It isn’t difficult to find, but like most Vietnamese eateries, this one is located in a nondescript strip mall but easily noticed by the “grand opening” signs still adorning the exterior.
The menu is simple and photos make it extremely effortless to choose. I notice immediately that the prices are much lower than other restaurants serving similar style food, however, later discover that most dishes are served “small-plates style” which highly appeal to me and my dining companion.
We begin with Grilled Ham Fresh Rolls (Gỏi Cuốn Nem Nướng $3/2pcs) which is a permanent staple should my son be dining with me. The ones here are decent, but are different from the Nem Nướng Cuốn you will find at restaurants such as Brodard or Dat Thanh (our favorite!) in that these are rolled with lettuce and herbs, but without the crispy spring roll wrapper.
I am intrigued by Baby Clams with Crispy Rice Cracker (Hến Xào Xúc Bánh Da $6) because I don’t remember ever eating this before. It is a good size portion! The baby clams are mixed with preserved vegetables, peanuts, and a handful of shredded herbs lending a very fragrant finish to this highly tasty dish. The flavor profiles are prominent and you get a combination of sweet, salty and hints of sour in each bite. We enjoy this very much.
Grilled Escargot with Garlic Butter (Ốc Hương Nướng Bơ Tỏi $7.50) is one Vietnamese dish I love to eat. I usually order this at Rice Paper Bistro but am thrilled to find it here. They are sea snails rather than escargot, and arrive with three dipping condiments. I love the salt and lime, as well as the one in the middle — but don’t know what it is. The third is a hoisin sauce. Absolutely fantastic!
Vietnamese Tempura Shrimp (Bánh Tôm Cổ Ngư $6/3pcs) is usually hard to order unless I’m eating with three other people because most restaurants serve a mountainous portion. Here, you get an appetizer size plate which works perfectly when you’re dining alone or with just two people. The sweet potatoes are fried to perfection — beautifully crispy — while the shrimp are so well-prepared I am able to eat it in its entirety with shell on.
However, the most surprising dish — and our favorite of the meal — is Savory Ingredients Rice Flour Cake (Bánh Dúc Nóng Dặc Biệt $3). A mochi-style base is topped with ground pork, fried bits of tofu, crispy shallots and fresh cilantro. Pour a little of the nước chấm, or fish sauce-based dipping sauce over a spoonful of this and eat. I can’t describe how comforting it is and so, so delicious.
There are a bunch of other items I still want to eat here so I’m planning to come back again pretty soon! It is a family-owned restaurant — mom cooks in the kitchen, the son runs the front of the house. Service is great and I am definitely keeping an eye out on them. I predict it will be a popular place in no time.
Pho Co Ha Noi
2709 Westminster Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92706