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By Steven Li on 2007-05-11

May 11, 2007

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Four Restaurants. One (Long) Post. Enjoy!

Bun Cuon Tay Ho (San Gabriel)

Whenever my dad comes to LA, we make sure to visit the Tay Ho on Valley at least twice. And each time we go we get the exact same thing, because that one thing is so good we can never quite venture away from it, try as hard as we may.

There are few restaurants in Hawaii that serve banh cuon, so when we want to eat these steamed rice noodle/cakes back home, we have to buy it from the banh cuon factory and assemble the rest of the dish in the kitchen (usually with the help of my grandma, although my dad has become quite the expert :)

But at Tay Ho they do crazy and wonderful things to their banh cuon, filling the tender noodles with a magical mix of mushrooms and pork. And that’s only the beginning! The banh cuon serves as the foundation of the dish, but there’s so much more tastes and tidbits layered upon on another, tying all in. The half moon slices you see are cha, cut from a massive steamed log. I like to think of cha as the not-as-salty, eastern sister of Spam. I like Spam. You’d be silly not to! Bit there’s even more! Above the cha on the left lives the fried tangle of sweet potato shards, like tempura, but better! And on the rice is this crazy thing I do not know the name of – it’s got shrimp, but also mushrooms and is that bread I taste? Well it’s all mashed and mixed together and fried in large rectangular pieces. Pour nuoc nam from the gallon sized containers on each table and dive in. With gusto, of course.

Vietnam House (San Gabriel)

The Vietnam House in San Gabriel is constantly full. There’s never been a visit where I was seated without at least a 10-minute wait. Take that as a good sign.

An order of cha gio sets you back a paltry $4.75 and rewards you with five perfect little spring rolls, crisp to the bite, filled with a spiced blend of pork and shrimp, positively gleaming in the dim lights of the restaurant.

I’ve always preferred the Vietnamese style beef stew, thit bo kho ($4.95) over the local Hawaiian kind, and Vietnam House executes a memorable version. Pick among French bread, egg noodles, rice or vermicelli as your starch option. Pictured here with vermicelli, the thick stew comes packed with meltingly tender chunks of beef and stewed tomatoes. The whole concoction is nearly heady, redolent of annatto seeds, lemongrass and star anise.

My dad enjoys the pork leg in a clear noodle soup. Inside of the rice noodles found in the popular pho, here they use thicker noodles, similar to udon, only with more of an elastic bounce. I’ve never taking a great liking to the pork leg, always too chewy for me, and I never quite know how to attack that mighty thick layer of skin.

The Hot Pots (Rowland Heights)

The Hot Pots just opened up on Rowland Heights. The name is somewhat deceiving, cause they don’t serve hot pot, as in huo guo kind hot pot, but instead, bowls of rice in hot pots, in the style of dolsot bibimbap. The general concept of the restaurant is simple, clean and healthy food.

I began with a cup of Cassia Seed and Wolfberry Tea ($.99). Served hot or cold as you wish (pictured here cold), it’s mild, refreshing tea. They’ve got a whole bunch of tea choices ranging from Chrysanthemum Honey to Carrot and Sugar Cane and even Pilose Asiabell Root Red Date tea (I have no idea what the last one is!)

The Salted Fish with Sliced Pork hot pot ($4.99) came with far too much rice and barely a smidgen of the preserved salted fish. The pork was far too fatty and tough to chew. The dish was simple enough so that the quality of the ingredients were ever more important, however it was a letdown, something I could easily execute at home with better quality ingredients for a fraction of the price.

Trisha had the Fish Fillet hot pot ($4.99), also very straightforward. She finished all but some rice, so it must have been passable. On the other hand, it’s just steamed fish and rice…One thing that irked me was that despite advertising itself as a “hot pot restaurant,” the pots the rice wasn’t hot enough to crisp the rice. So in the end, we did get a hot pot, but none of that good, bottom-of-the-pot rice you’d expect.

Mei Long Village (San Gabriel)

I’ve heard much about this mysterious thing called LION’S HEAD on various chowhound posts and food blogs. The concept is simple enough – oversized meatballs. But it was the name that got me, the idea that I would be eating something massive enough to deserve the title of LION’S HEAD! ROARRRRR, hehe :)

So off we went to Mei Long Village.

We had their famed xiao long baos($5.50), which were just as good as, if not better, that J&J Restaurant’s two doors down. The skin here is more supple and the pork more richly seasoned. However, one piece in the corner had completely leaked out its juices, making me somewhat sad. What’s a xiao long bao without its treasured bounty of hidden broth?

But I quickly got over that the second our order of Lion Head in Brown Sauce ($12.95) hit the table. The casserole pot was huge! It was massive! And there was not one, but four meatballs beneath the blanket of stewed napa cabbage and shitake mushrooms.

Oh it was such a glorious thing to eat! We each placed a meatball over our bowl of rice, making sure to spoon up the gravy-like brown sauce along with cabbage and mushrooms. We sunk our spoons (it just felt like more of a spoon than chopstick dish) in to the tennis ball sized sphere, releasing a bounty of steam. So soft it was! Like meaty butter it could have been, redolent of star anise and a bit of black pepper! The first meatball went down like nothing. And we each took on a second. And then, after pausing for breath, we realized how incredibly stuffed we were. But it was the best kind of stuffed! The happy, I-ate-too-much-of-a-good-thing kind of stuffed. Which later on turned into the oh-man-we-ate-that-whole-thing kind of stuffed. But now, I can proudly go home and tell my mom and dad, I had a LION’S HEAD tonight. heehee, forgive my childish humor.

Tay Ho Banh Cuon
1039 E Valley Blvd Ste B103
San Gabriel, CA, 91776
(626) 280-5207

Vietnam House
710 W. Las Tunas Dr. #5-7
San Gabriel, Ca 91776
(626) 282-6327

The Hot Pots
1388 S. Fullerton Rd. #123
Rowland Heights, CA 91789
(626) 839-3297

Mei Long Village
301 W. Valley Blvd., #112
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 284-4769



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