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Photo by Jessica CalkinsAnaheim's BB Restaurant is one of the county's better non-Little Saigon Vietnamese eateries because it concentrates on four delicious yet distinct Vietnamese noodle traditions.
Pho:pho noodles soup is one of the world's great consommés because of its broth, a lovely liquid that takes hours to prepare and varies in taste according to chef. The aroma of BB's pho broth is worth the visit alone. Permanently emanating from every recess of the tiny restaurant, the gentle odor of cinnamon, beef and anise can clear the nostrils of the most congested soul. It tastes good, too.
The contents of pho soup are almost an afterthought, but BB gives enough attention to the pho dat biet to invigorate the most refined pho fan. The thin rice noodles do not melt in the bowl's heat like in other pho joints, and the two types of beef (boiled and fresh) pepper the mouth with tenderness. Tripe and tendon pieces balance the soup by giving it a tough, fatty counterpoint.
The pho xào plates are even better revelations. BB compresses pho noodles into mega-noodles, pan-fries them to a golden brown like a potato pancake, and then buries the new victual under vegetables and meats. All of this is inundated with a gravy-like meat sauce, and the fantastic interplay between the ingredients distracts from pho xào's steaming status.
Hu:hu tieu soup is not as delicate as its pho brother, but the noodle-based selections feature their own pleasant harshness. Instead of complex flavors, hu tieu smashes the palate with a heavy dose of scallions while a giant, burnt garlic bulb lies at the bottom of the bowl. The pungent bulb is the star of the dish: it slowly disassembles with each ripple of the soup, releasing a new rush of sweet bitterness with each peeling leaf.
Exclusively a meat soup, the meat in hu tieu consists of springy balls that have the texture and multilayered taste of the most intricate pâtés. BB Restaurant stuffs so many of these orbs into their immense bowls they can be arranged like minute stops on a clock. The best of BB's nine hu tieu choices is the hu tieu nuoc thap cam, a seafood-and-pork bowl that does for surf 'n' turf what cappuccino did for the morning cup of joe.
Mì:these noodles are as thin as human hair and made of a powerful egg flour. One bite of a solitary noodle is the flavor equivalent of a dozen eggs. The mì hoanh thanh soup is so potent with egg flavor it's like drinking yolks.
Mì soup's intensity might be too much for the non-Vietnamese, but mì xào would be as popular as pad Thai amongst non-Asians in a just world. Served sans soup, the egginess of mì noodles is diluted because they're served salty and dry like a twig. Mì xào is best with seafood, and the barbecued shrimp mì xào (soft shrimp cooked to a crisp) in particular shines.
Bún:bún is what they serve in Paradise. Cool vermicelli noodles snake around a mound of bean sprouts, lettuce, cucumber and carrot slices, and stray mint leaves. Studded throughout the knoll of freshness are peanut bits while slices of meat lie to the side. The sickly sweet fish sauce nuoc mam baptizes the dish, and the results soothe every frayed edge of the tongue.
While most Vietnamese restaurants stick to beef, pork and chicken varieties, BB offers 16 bún selections, including such hard-to-find choices as bún bì (with crunchy julienned pork skin) and bún chay (with tofu); finding a restaurant in OC that serves bún chay is particularly hard to find, so BB ensures that theirs is the finest in the county.
Bún noodles also come as a soup. BB does only one bún soup, but it happens to be bún bò Hue. Cooked with beef and pork and stained a brick-red, the slightly spicy soup takes its name after the ancestral capital of Vietnam, where the soup is gospel.
BB's noodle selections are only as good as the warm bowl of chè tao xoan (a custard-like dessert) that comes free with any order. Be warned: BB's loyal and growing clientele usually ensures that the chè tao xoan is gone by the afternoon. But the excellence of everything else remains.
BB RESTAURANT, LOCATED AT 880 W. LINCOLN AVE., ANAHEIM, IS OPEN MON.-SAT., 9 A.M.-9 P.M. (714) 774-1931. NO ALCOHOL. DINNER FOR TWO, $8-$14, FOOD ONLY. CASH ONLY.