Second-generation Vietnamese-Americans have now taken the baton from their elders and are fundamentally remaking Little Saigon's dining scene. From here on out, expect the Dos Chinoses, Nudo Nudos and Afterses of the world to take over the pho palaces, Hue houses and bánh mì barns of before. Progress is inevitable, of course, and these youngsters definitely impress with their pan-Asian fusion goodness. But there's one food genre I predict they'll never dare emulate, one that will outlast nearly every other old-school business: the food-to-go shops.
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Such places remain the most untranslatable restaurants in Little Saigon for non-Vietnamese, small rooms that consist of steam trays bubbling with fresh food, coolers of frozen meals, counters rendered nearly invisible by rolls, desserts packed in Styrofoam trays and cellophane wrappers, and 6-foot-long tables groaning under the weight of dozens of different dishes. There is nowhere to sit; customer service is nonexistent, even by Little Saigon's notorious Soup Nazi standards. And there is no guidance whatsoever for non-Viets: At Lâm Vân, a claustrophobic spot that specializes in Northern Vietnamese dishes, the closest thing to a menu is blocks of items on a marquee, with multiple ones stuffed onto pillars of text and the only English being—yep—"Food to Go."
Don't be scurred. If you're an OCer, you'll already know some of Lâm Vân's goodies just by looking at them. The translucent, burrito-looking things are, of course, nem nuong, and the luscious spring rolls go 10 for $10 and nearly rival Brodard's. Hopefully, the Vietnamese chick you dated in college introduced you to bánh béo, those steamed rice cakes that resemble Mekong sopes. Fried shrimp on a sugarcane stalk? Translucent dumplings? Things wrapped in banana leaves? Just come here, grab a bunch of stuff, figure out what you like and work your way through the table—best food court in OC, bar none.
And when you've graduated, order in bulk. Lâm Vân is most famous for its garlic-fish-sauce chicken wings—tart, reeking, gorgeous. Second-generation Viets order them by the trayful for their parties, knowing that while Little Saigon is theirs, they will never beat the past.
Lâm Vân, 8888 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 799-5358.