Not full of hot air


Hi-Tek Video Store. Speaking of the younger, apolitical generation in Little Saigon, the one thing that can get the kids to hit the street is a businessman dumb enough to hang a photograph of Ho Chi Minh inside his video store on Bolsa Avenue. The store's not there anymore, of course; it never did any business after the massive demonstrations that saw up to 10,000 protesting Vietnamese-Americans outside its doors in early 1999. The store owner in question, Truong Van Tran, also flew a Vietnamese flag—what's called the "communist flag" in Little Saigon—inside his store. On several occasions, police had to escort Tran from his store to avoid almost certain parking-lot lynchings. Finally, Tran called police to the store to respond to an alleged burglary attempt. Inside his attic, police found more than 100 looped-together VCRs and thousands of pirated tapes. Tran was arrested, appealed, lost and served 90 days at the Orange County jail this summer.

Meanwhile, video piracy is alive and well inside Little Saigon. Even as Tran sat behind bars, the Weekly surveyed five nearby video stores, all but one of which appeared to offer customers only videos that were pirated. Of course, Westminster police deny they arrested Tran simply to sweep a troublesome business owner out of the way and end the largest and longest-running instance of civil unrest in the city's history. 9550 Bolsa Ave.

Nguoi Viet. Little Saigon is the county's busiest media center. Dozens of newspapers, bookstores, and radio and television stations operate in a five-square-mile radius. First published as a four-page weekly in 1978, Nguoi Viet (Vietnamese People) is the granddaddy of all Little Saigon newspapers. Yen Do, the newspaper's former publisher, is the iconoclast who dictates how the other Vietnamese-American media outlets handle the news. His newspaper was firebombed for seemingly progressive economic ideas—he advocated free trade—but what is a refugee community without radical war vets who want to take back the homeland? 14891 Moran St., (714) 892-9414.

Little Saigon Radio. Turn the dial to 1480 AM and listen to news, cooking recipes and advice on health. Most Vietnamese-Americans use the radio not just for entertainment but also to learn how to function in American society. It remains one of the most authoritative ways that the community receives information. 15781 Brookhurst St., Ste. 101, (714) 918-4444.

Tony Lam. Lam is the nation's first Vietnamese-American elected official. If you don't want to meet him while he sits stonefaced on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at Westminster's City Council meetings, why not go to his Vien Dong (Far East) restaurant? Located in nearby Garden Grove, the councilman's restaurant focuses on traditional Northern Vietnamese dishes like banh tom (a shrimp fritter) and bun rieu, a rice vermicelli noodle soup with ground crab and tomato broth. Feeling braver? Go for the bun oc (rice vermicelli noodles with escargot). 14271 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-8253.

Asian Garden Mall. There isn't much of a garden here, but this two-story complex is full of Vietnamese shops selling food, clothes, music, medicines, books and Buddhist artifacts. You'll also see lots of old South Vietnamese soldiers—sans sidearms—hanging out, with cigarettes dangling from their lips. When you're done shopping, relax with one of the many Vietnamese dessert drinks offered in the mall. If you're looking to explore what Little Saigon offers in one quick trip (and we don't recommend this), go here. 9039 Bolsa Ave.


Alerto's. The best 24-hour place in Westminster to eat greasy Mexican food. The portions are ridiculously huge, and nothing costs more than $6. Order the carne asada if you can handle a two-pound plate of savory seasoned beef with all the fixings. We usually stick with the breakfast burrito—nothing settles the stomach after a hard night of clubbing like a Frisbee-sized flour tortilla stuffed with eggs, chorizo, potatoes and cheese. 15681 Brookhurst St., (714) 775-9550.

Uyen thy Quan. This may be the best restaurant in Little Saigon at four in the morning. If you get lost in the menu, ask your server for help. This place is very accommodating. 9600 Bolsa, Ste. M, (714) 839-1166.


Mi La Cay. Mi (yellow rice noodles) are actually Chinese, but many Vietnamese places have incorporated them on the menu. Funny how 1,000 years of colonization can do that. Mi La Cay is continuously one of the most popular restaurants in the genre of mi cookery. Bring your appetite, and order a heaping bowl of Mi La Cay dac biet (the house special). This noodle soup is served with roasted chicken, fried shrimp and pork. 8924 Bolsa Ave., (714) 891-8775.

Kim Su. The coolest place to eat lunch—traditional Chinese, great dim sum (similar to hors d'oeuvres and usually consisting of a variety of dumplings, steamed dishes and desserts), but we usually go for the lunch specials like sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, and kung pao chicken. We like this place for two reasons: (1) you can mix and share food so easily, and (2) we are cheap bastards, usually paying no more than $6 per person. But avoid this place at dinner, when the same plate will triple in cost but not size. 10526 Bolsa Ave., (714) 554-6261.

Thanh My. A longtime favorite of both locals and visitors, this blindingly bright, informal restaurant offers a huge selection of Vietnamese pho (pronounced ph-ah) as well as rice and noodle dishes. It is consistently busy, especially late at night. 9553 Bolsa, (714) 531-9540.

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