Long Beach Lunch: Binh Duong
Usually when somewhere claims to be the "best in town," it's a euphemism for "just decent." However, when a Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of Long Beach's Cambodia Town splashes it all over their paper marketing, take heed.
Most Vietnamese grub in Long Beach rests on the laurels of banh mis (like My Le) and cheap bowls of pho (like Pho Hong Phat). Unlike in nearby Orange County where literally hundreds of restaurants dish out non-soup-and-sandwich Viet specialties like banh hoi, bun, chao, and com tams, Long Beach only has one: Binh Duong.
As the only all-embracing Vietnamese restaurant in town, Binh Duon's claim to be the best is technically true by default. But it's beef balls, shredded pork bi cuons, and all sorts of carby banh offerings are also good enough to go up against some of Little Siagon's favorites.
The best part about Binh Duong, though, isn't its ability to make chao thap cam (fishy, pork blood and offal porridge) or bun thit nuong cha gio (cold vermicelli with pork and a crispy egg roll) as if it came straight out of Westminster. With Cambodian owners who speak little Vietnamese--and little English, for that matter--Binh Duong is a Khmer-tinged Vietnamese restaurant that could only come out of a ratty corner of Anaheim St. in Long Beach.
Because of its location, the stand out dishes here are not surprisingly all the Vietnamese ones that have close relatives in Khmer cooking. Banh xeo, a rice pancake folded in half over some meat and onions--served at Binh Duong with greens and a sweet fish sauce for $6.50--is basically the Vietnamese version of Cambodia's bahn cholw, required lettuce-wrap eating method and all.
Khmer beef lok lak is one of the country's most popular meat dishes, a pile of strips of beef grilled with black pepper sided by a thin sugar and lemon sauce for dipping. Binh Duong's $9 Vietnamese version, bo luc lac, lives under the fried rice section of the menu and features a portion of mouthwatering beef nuggets--diced and charbroiled with onions--alongside a more buttery lemon-garlic sauce, which provides an extra coat of savory juice when poured over the whole plate.
While Binh Duong excels in all sorts of traditional Southeast Asian eats not commonly found at the other Vietnamese places in Long Beach, unfortunately, the restaurant's biggest weak spot is the one most important to so many--its pho.
The Vietnamese staple done so expertly at nearby pho-only houses is burdened here by a bland broth that lacks the salty goodness that comes from hours of bubbling and gurgling with beef parts. More than liberal portions of noodles and meat attempt to make up for the tasteless soup, but there's no escaping the fact that pho is a second citizen at Binh Duong.
Little Saigon die-hards may scoff at the hints of Cambodia embedded into Binh Duong's cooking, but then they would be missing out on all the authentic cuisine that makes the hole in the wall truly "the best Vietnamese in town."
As they say: location, location, location. Binh Duong, 2232 E. Anaheim St. , Long Beach, (562) 433-9964
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