Everyone from Valencia to Vista knows that Little Saigon is the place to go for pho... but if you stay with the tried-and-true (and cheap) beef noodle soup, you are merely scratching the surface of a subset of Vietnamese food. Try these ten dishes, listed in alphabetical order: they'll really float your boat.
1. Bún Bò Huế at Ngu Binh
You have to be willing to get down and dirty with your animal parts to eat bún bò Huế. First of all, it's spicy; second, there are unapologetic cubes of simmered pork blood strewn through the thick foliage of accoutrements, and if you leave them in your bowl, you'll lose any respect they might have had foryou.
2. Bún Măng Vịt at Pho Thanh Lich
On the weekends, while everyone else is lapping up $3 phở, splurge and order duck and bamboo shoot soup. The broth is intense, the bamboo shoots are cut thick enough to stay crunchy in the soup, and the portion of duck they bring is generous. Envious people will ask you what you're eating.
3. Bún Riêu Cua Tôm Ốc at Quan Vy Da
This is from Kim Huong, but you get the idea...
Bún riêu is a tomato and ground meat soup, and it's common in most soup shops, but the bún riêu with crab meat, shrimp, and sea snails at Quan Vy Da is outstanding even in a crowded field.
4. Cháo at Kang Lac Bakery
It doesn't matter which flavor you pick (I love lean pork and preserved egg), make sure you get rice porridge at this bakery that's more famous for jook than for baked goods. Don't forget, either, to order fried savory crullers to dip in the cháo.
5. Hủ Tieu Nam Vang at Trieu Chau
So popular is this Phnom Penh-style noodle soup that if you dither over the menu, the waitstaff will probably just bring you bowls of it. The lines get long, and the place closes early, in part due to the sketchy neighborhood to its north, but it's worth striking out for.
6. Mì Quảng at Quan Hy
Vietnam's answer to curry noodles is a dish more often made at home in Little Saigon, but Quan Hy has it and you can enjoy the smooth coconut taste while relaxing to the sound of the indoor fountain.
7. Mì Vịt Tiềm at Phat Ky Mi Gia
You could be forgiven for thinking that rice noodles rule the roost in Little Saigon, but egg noodles, called mì in Vietnamese, are everywhere. At Phat Ky Mi Gia, the soup on everyone's table is mì vịt tiềm, or roasted duck and egg noodle soup. You can order it "nước" (in soup) or "khô" (soup on the side).
8. Phở Bò at Pho 86
If it's beef noodle soup you must have and the lines at Pho Thanh Lich are unendurable, go across the parking lot to Pho 86 and order yourself a steaming bowl. Make sure to order fatty brisket, the best of its class in Little Saigon. They open at 5 a.m., too, so you can get your fix early.
9. Phở Gà at Pho Quang Trung
Do not for one second think we're talking about Campbell's chicken noodle soup here. No, do this the right way, with thighs rather than breasts (they're tastier), with liver, with heart, with gizzards, and with unlaid eggs (which are basically tiny egg yolks). Insist if you must; it's worth it.
10. Súp Măng Cua at King Harbor Seafood
King Harbor is technically a Cantonese restaurant, and it's not technically in Little Saigon (though it is in Garden Grove), but there are enough Vietnamese dishes on the menu to make me wonder about the staff in the kitchen; crab and asparagus soup is one of those dishes, and depending on the price of crab that day, you may find yourself eating more like a crab stew with cat's ears of asparagus poking out of it.