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This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Buddhist Bounty

Everything people fear about holes-in-the-wall manifests itself at Bo De. Streaked floors. Tables with strange lumps on the tabletops. English-deficient wait staff. Flies that won't leave you alone. An almost entirely ethnic clientele. Weird smells. Annoying music—in this case, it's the ceaseless chants of Buddhist monks. But check your Ugly American at the door and eat some of the county's best vegetarian cuisine.

Unlike other vegetarian restaurants, Bo De doesn't scrimp on the offerings: 93 plates (and this figure doesn't include the rotating buffet at the restaurant's entrance) from all regions of Vietnam. For example, the bánh mì cari is Paris via Vietnam and India: crispy baguettes cut in half and accompanied by a sweet yellow curry steaming in a gorgeous pot. This curry is sweet and thick, bobbing with sweet potatoes and tofu featuring just a hint of spice. The two phos aren't like any version of the classic beef noodle soup you've ever supped: There's no beef, for one, and the predominant flavor is lemon. The lemonade, meanwhile, is perfect: sweeter than punch, pulpy, and not weighed down with sugar, as is the wont of many Little Saigon lemonades.

You have a favorite meat, Bo De probably creates delicious simulacrums of it. Poultry fans should ask for the thanh tam, tofu expertly masquerading as hen with dozens of small ginger strips studded throughout; a brown sauce envelops all and absorbs the flavors. Dau hu sot ca is vegetarian heaven: tofu cake, vermicelli noodles and mushrooms flavored with peppercorns and tomatoes. Soups, fake duck, hot pots: Bo De prepares mucho, and it's all good and cheap. And if you can't decide on any dish, the best fallback option is the com phan special: 4 bucks gets you rice, soup, vegetables and another entrée. Even Lee's Sandwiches can't top that deal.

It's at this point in the review where I turn to a cliché: The fake meats really taste like meat! So just allow me this one indulgence: The last time I visited, my gal ordered fried wontons that glistened like gold. A spicy fish sauce accompanied it, and we bit. It was delicious—too delicious. It tasted just like pork. I had faith that Bo De wouldn't try to pass off meat as tofu, especially because they prominently display vegetarian propaganda in Vietnamese that has cows and dolphins extolling the virtues of a meat-free diet. But my girlfriend persisted; ask, she said. So I did. "Vegetarian? Yes!" our server said with a laugh, as if it were the most self-evident truth since dharma.


BO DE, 15131 MORAN ST., WESTMINSTER, (714) 891-5809.

 
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