By Keith Plocek
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Little Saigon is a place of little consensus, and arguments about food have created a dining scene of almost-Balkan divisions. Everyone has a favorite pho place or bánh mì dive, a great spot for crawfish or sweets that isn’t where their friends and foes dine. Really, only one restaurant can boast it’s everyone’s choice as the best around for its specialty: Binh Dan, where OC’s Vietnamese diaspora goes to chow down on goat.
10040 McFadden Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Not thought of as polite fare by the Vietnamese, but rather a meat for men to eat while chugging beers, goat shows up mostly in Little Saigon’s bars, served by nubile waitresses. But Binh Dan is an exception: a tiny storefront on the outskirts of the enclave, run by the same family for more than 20 years, whose source for goat is a private herd in Riverside. It sells other items, including five different clam dishes, each with its own puckering peppers and herbs, but you’re here for the de 7 mon—seven courses of goat.
Consider it a primer for the next time you visit—figure out which entry you like best, but try them all to marvel at the cooks’ resourcefulness. First comes the goat blood pudding, topped with goat liver and accompanied by toasted sesame-seed crackers—as rich and lingering as bone marrow spread on crostinis. Next is goat stir-fried alongside curry-dusted veggies—delicious, but the least of the courses, only because the others reach such lofty culinary heights. Then comes grilled goat sprinkled with sesame seeds—smoky, beautifully gamy. It’s paired with minced goat rolled into betel leaves and covered by milky caul fat; dunk the two into a small bowl of shrimp paste for a salty, funky flair.
Dish número five is one of the best dishes I’ve tried this year: de ca ri. Vietnamese curry is known for its sweet, almost-apologetic heat, yet it’s the perfect complementary flavor to the roasted goat bobbing in the bowl; a plate of noodles on the side serves to sop up the thick, peanut-laden broth. It’s a better-tasting soup than its successor, de nhua man, goat stew meant to mimic the flavor of dog. The cuts are laden with fat, tendon and skin, making the broth nearly gelatinous and the meal as suffocating as a dinner of chicharrones. Ending the parade is yet another goat stew, this one prepared with supposed medicinal herbs—the only real change I noticed afterward was that I had better breath.
At $16.50 per person, Binh Dan’s seven courses of goat is Orange County’s greatest, most-affordable culinary onslaught since Tacos El Chavito’s two-tacos-for-a-buck special. And I didn’t even describe the goat ribs or goat udders. (Mmmm . . . udders. . . .)
Binh Dan, 10040 McFadden Ave., Westminster, (714) 839-7050.
This column appeared in print as "An Underappreciated Ungulate."
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