Wednesday, May 2, 2007
I was glad to hear that my first review made some mouths water all the way in England as well as in Canada. Well, this one isn't exactly a favorite, but for West L.A., it's all we've got. Pho and Bun, that is. Welcome to Le Saigon, where the Pho is a tad watered-down and Bun (pictured left) is merely acceptable. Although I have only tried the different varieties of beef Pho here, I usually don't venture ordering it unless I am sick and really desperate for some piping hot liquid to soothe me over. What I do go for is the Bun Thit-Tom Nuong, or "rice vermicelli with charbroiled sliced beef (or choice of pork, chicken, tofu, spring rolls or shrimp)," as the menu states. I am a huge fan of Bun because it's so refreshing and reasonably healthy -- a panoply of veggies, meat and spice, all of which I love. Le Saigon's version is good for the area but if I wanted the real deal, I would probably go where the largest concentration of Vietnamese Americans live in the U.S. -- Little Saigon in Orange County -- or a closer alternative where a smaller segment live in San Gabriel Valley toward the east.
Going back to Le Saigon (not Little Saigon) and its Bun, it makes for a decent quick meal at $7.50 a pop. Some critics have expressed outrage at how "overpriced" the Pho and Bun are compared to restaurants not located in West L.A.. They have to pay the rent. Besides, how much are people paying for the fancy grilled cheese sandwich at Campanile? I appreciate a gourmet sandwich just as much as the next gourmand, but $14 for a grilled cheese sandwich? (I will not hesitate, however, to pay $15+ for a mean burger grilled to medium-rare perfection. But as someone said, that's another post.)
What could be better about Le Saigon? The charbroiled sliced beef could be more tender and the marinade more flavorful, but I go back to my trusty old red chili sauce (I don't know what the sauce other than Shiracha is called) to make up for it. Otherwise, it is a good mix of sprouts, shredded lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, mint and thin rice noodles sprinkled with crushed peanuts -- all swimming in a pool of slightly sweet sauce spiced with the red sauce. The menu calls it a "dry noodle salad," but it is neither dry nor a salad (discuss). My friend had the Bun that comes with beef and two tiny imperial rolls, but I think the deep-fried spring rolls are odd because they get slightly soggy once we pour the sauce or "dressing."
I usually order Goi Cuon (pictured above), the fresh spring rolls, as an appetizer. Because the steamed pork is not that great at Le Saigon, I get it with steamed tofu and shrimp instead. Make sure you add plenty of Shiracha to the peanut sauce.
Although I haven't tried all of them, I would not recommend the other things on the menu, like rice dishes and salads, based on what I have tried. Stick to the basics.
Another thing is that the tap water they serve tastes bad, so unless you really don't want to pay for a drink, I would invest in bottled water or Vietnamese coffee (or the curious-sounding Grass Jelly Drink, as the menu states) I usually never buy bottled water at restaurants but I do when I go here. Service is friendly and fast. Decor is nothing to write home about. It's also cash only and has limited seating so avoid peak hours or large parties. It's closed Mondays.
I hope to explore more of San Gabriel Valley and Little Saigon to search for the perfect Bun as well as more complex regional dishes not found in Le Saigon. Stay tuned!