By the time it closed its doors earlier this summer, Vien Dong in Garden Grove was one of the oldest continuously operating Vietnamese restaurants in the United States at 32 years. Many folks remember it as the first place in Little Saigon to specialize in the cuisine of North Vietnam, all about—as our own Dave Lieberman put it— "bún rieu oc tom moc (tomato-based soup with ground crab and shrimp, plus small periwinkle snails), trung duc (Hanoi-style omelet cake with dill, onion and ground pork), dan hu nhoi thit (fried tofu with stuffed ground pork) and, the crowd favorite, can ca ro phi thi la (tomato-based soup with fried Tilapia on the side)." Don't forget the bún cha ha noi, son!
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But the restaurant also deserves a historical plaque as the base from where America's first elected Vietnamese-American councilmember was able to get his office. The restaurant's longtime owner, Tony Lam, made history in 1992 when he won a spot on the Westminster City Council. He, his wife, and a partner had opened Vien Dong in 1984, and Lam parlayed that into longstanding community activism that eventually led to his successful council run. But the restaurant's high visibility backfired on Lam in 1999, when Vietnamese activists protested outside Vien Dong, accusing Lam of supporting Truong Van Tran, who had hung a photo of Ho Chi Minh in his video store, much to everyone's consternation.
Lam ended up selling the restaurant years later, and Vien Dong went a revamp earlier this decade in an effort to capture the 2nd- and 3rd-generation Viets. But it apparently didn't work out, as the building that houses Vien Dong was spotted being gutted this weekend. Fare thee well...