Vietnamese restaurants are famous for offering dozens of different dishes, for slapdash décor and for epic dining rooms, but Quan Long Hoa is none of these. When I first opened its menu, I thought pages were stuck to the three I thumbed through; I even tapped it a couple of times. The restaurant was almost as small as my office, which is about the size of a walk-in closet in Mission Viejo—okay, Lake Forest. Despite its snugness, Quan Long Hoa felt like a jungle temple, all wood paneling and platitudes about the virtues of veganism, with flowers and vitamins for sale and a flat-screen airing what seemed to be a female guru lecturing to hundreds of devotees.
Little Saigon has always had vegan restaurants, but none is as sleek as this. It's a little out of place as a tenant in a shopping plaza competing with a dim sum dive and the ever-crowded Cho Tam Bien, and the servers always seem a bit surprised when people dine in. But here is vegan food at its best: not trying to replicate meat-heavy dishes, but rather using the constraints of nature to match them flavor for flavor. Cooks here employ not only tofu and Gardein, but also fleshy mushrooms ranging from woodear to king. They steam and grill and sauté the flesh substitutes, then throw them into a Murderer's Row of Vietnamese classics—bún Hue, pho, bún cha, bánh mì—and nail each one. Pho is dense and delicious; the bún Hue, spicy and electric. The bún riêu, a classic crab soup, is spot-on down to the tamarind tanginess and stringy “flesh.” Even better, all the soups come with perhaps the freshest herb plate around, featuring mint and perilla leaves so vibrantly green and purple you half-expect them to sing “Mean Green.”
Quan Long Hoa also sells rice and noodle dishes that are fine; the only real flop is—ironically enough—the spring rolls, the one vegan dish all Vietnamese restaurants offer (the rice wrapper is too gummy, the peanut sauce bland). Take note, vegan chefs: This is how you do it.
Quan Long Hoa, 9550 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 125, Westminster, (714) 514-8726.