Vietnamese goat-balls soup is great! It doesn’t look like much, and the texture of the testicles is spongy, like brain or a silky frittata. But the way it’s served at Luc Dinh Ky will make you believe. The staff translate it into English as “mixed-herb goat soup,” it makes birria seem as dense as boiled grass: rich meat in broth that tastes like medicine thanks to all sorts of Chinese herbs—ginseng, dates, goji berries and more. It’s not considered an aphrodisiac in Vietnamese culture, as is, say, regular goat soup, but the only people I ever see ordering it are elders looking for a pick-me-up.
The soup is supposed to heal and rejuvenate, so it makes sense that Luc Dinh Ky serves bowls of the stuff. The chain started as a health-food-product manufacturer in 2002, first becoming famous around Little Saigon for its herbal tea—a lovely chrysanthemum brew, golden and slightly thick, but refreshing and best ice-cold. You can buy it at most local markets, but Luc Dinh Ky gives it away to customers in lieu of water as a way to entice them to take some home. The brand is such that its two perpetually crowded restaurants (Tap 2 gets a break around rush hour, then gets Afters-long lines around midnight) are just a short walk from each other.
But despite Luc Dinh Ky’s heritage and its black chicken soup (also understatedly translated as “mixed-herb chicken soup”), the menu is best classified as Vietnamese-diner cuisine. Big bowls of pho sidle up to swirls of pan-fried, steamed or crispy noodles, topped with your choice of protein (ask for the house-made black pepper pork sausage, then go find it at your local Viet market). More soups appear with the cháo (actually porridge) and the mì, the latter with more generous portions. Another specialty: rice dishes. I like the one with beef stomach, with the best being the shaking beef, cooked like a pot au feu. It’s savory, saucy and your best choice if you’re not ballsy enough for you-know-what.
Luc Dinh Ky Tap 1, 9812 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 839-6813; Luc Dinh Ky Tap 2, 9600 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 775-8811; www.lucdinhky.com.