Five Delicious Dac Biets
Illustration by Bob AulSelecting what to eat from a Vietnamese restaurant menu can be a daunting task. Many Little Saigon eateries simply list dozens of dishes without translating them, and the Anglophile mind quickly tires trying to comprehend the Vietnamese language's dizzying use of accents; tildes; and other squiggly marks above, below and through Roman characters. But fear not, Anh ngú speaker—just ask the waiter for the restaurant's dac biet, and you're guaranteed a fine Vietnamese dinner. Signifying "special," a restaurant's dac biet is its self-identified main course, and the following are some of Orange County's best.
PHO MAY, 1515 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 937-1530.Every self-respecting Vietnamese diner boils the renowned South Vietnamese soup pho, but what's noteworthy about the pho dac biet at this recently opened locale is its size—an oil drum of firm rice noodles buried beneath copious slices of rare and well-cooked beef, stringy cow tendon and tripe. Sprinkle on some tangy hoisin sauce, and you're ready to slurp the best pho ($5.50) north of the 22 Freeway. BÁNH MÌ CHÈ CALI, 13838 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 534-6987. The best meal deal in this dimension remains the Vietnamese sandwich bánh mì, and Bánh Mì Chè Cali solidifies its status as the county's finest bánh mì bistro with its dac biet (one fookin' dollar)—a crispy but not flaky baguette housing slivers, stalks and smears of pâté, pickled carrots, Chinese-style ham, cilantro and jalapeño slices. MÌ LA CAY, 8924 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 891-8775. Mì La Cay specializes in mì, powerfully eggy Chinese-style noodles whose wire-thin consistency gives it the look of fragrant twigs. Any mì munchies will do here, but pick the Mi La Cay dac biet ($4.50), a heaping bowl of crunchy mì noodle soup served with roasted chicken, fried shrimp and pork. FAVORI, 3502 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-6838.This Vietnamese-French restaurant's renowned whole catfish ($25) makes the most persuasive case yet for the 100-year-plus Gallic occupation of Indochina. The fried-golden-brown fish comes on a bed of lettuce and is surrounded by plates of mints, other herbs and a bowl of ginger-spiked chile sauce that has vaguely Cajun undertones. OKI DOKI, 3033 S. Bristol, Ste. O, Costa Mesa, (714) 540-2066.The fave ethnic dive of the OC Weekly's ad department isn't purely Vietnamese per se, but Oki Doki's barbecue shrimp and egg roll bún dac biet ($5.50) is as exemplary a version as you'll ever eat of the vermicelli-noodle salad.
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13838 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
8924 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683