Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa, Alhambra


Something happens to TV programming once the clock strikes 12. The programming is either syndicated re-runs of old shows like Married With Children or you get those 1/2 hour infomercials for some exercise machine that you'll probably never use. And advertising has taught me why this happens - money. To run a TV commercial on any of the big networks like NBC, ABC and ABC between the primetime hours of 7pm - 11pm, it'll cost you anywhere from $250,000 to $350,000 and even more during special events like NBA Playoffs. For superbowl, you're talking over $1,000,000 per spot because of the reach. Yes, not many clients can afford this sort of placement. Even if they could, they would probably be too unappropriate. After midnight, the freaks do come out... enter: Girls Gone Wild. If you were blind or half-asleep, you would still be able to tell what kind of product they are selling. Loud rock music, sorority girls screaming, dudes cheering and that ever-so-convincing voiceover guy.

As annoying as the commercials are, I find them hilarious. Imagine. You get married to the woman of your dreams and you have a baby girl. So angelic, so beautiful. She kisses you good night every night and tells you that your her hero. Next thing you know, she's 'developing' in jr. high and no longer hugs you anymore because she has a crush at school. Her nights are spent inside her room on the phone, and no longer in the living room. Then she starts going to dances and before you know it, she's on her way to college. Your sweet little girl is going to become a woman finally. But god forbid that one night, at around 2:43 am, you see your daughter taking a beer bong out of a halved sparkletts water jug on Channel 13 for what seems like a 'documentary' on college life. An office-size jug. God forbid. When we have children one day, we all just have to let go and pray that she stays on the right path.

And its the same way I perceive the Central Vietnamese noodle soup called 'bun bo hue', literally meaning 'noodles + beef + from the Hue region. We all know pho, the celebrated beef noodle soup from Vietnam. Pure in broth, flavor and texture... with simple additions that make this one bowl of heaven. But after one wild weekend in Hue, pho is no longer pho. She's lost a lot of beef and has grown other stuff, like braised beef, pork blood cubes, pork knuckles and pork sausage. Her hair is no longer a light yellow/brown, it's red. And boy has her attitude changed, no longer quiet and subtle with gestures, she's loud and not afraid to bite. Think of it as noodle soup gone wild.

In actuality, this soup has no resemblance to pho. The soup is completely different in taste because the predominant ingredient is lemongrass in a slightly spicy beef broth. Toppings usually consist of pork knuckles and pork blood cubes. For garnishing, bean sprouts, red cabbage, mint and lime are used. I searched the Chowhound boards and learned about a place in Alhambra called Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa, not to be confused with Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Alhambra

Located on the far west side of Valley Blvd, still in the realms of Alhambra, you'll find NNKH situated in a small strip mall. Because of the bamboo trees by the window, it always looks like its closed but you'll be happy to know they close at 10 usually. Not sure about the Sunday hours. 'Nem Nuong' means charboiled pork that has been cured in fish sauce, oil, sugar with garlic, pepper and potato starch to bind the mixture. It is pink in color and looks uncooked but is indeed cooked. There's also another version where the pork is shaped into meatballs and skewered on sugar cane sticks. And this is exactly what NNKH is known for, their 'nem nuong'. More on that later.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue (Lemongrass-Flavored Beef Bone Soup with Noodles)
This comes with one large pork knuckle, pork blood cubes, braised beef shank slices and pork meatloaf (gia lua). If you don't want any of the above, simply let them know. The shank and meatloaf are good. You can buy your own meatloaf for only $2! The noodles are made with rice and as thick as spaghetti noodles (unlike the thin pho rice noodles) but go very well with the soup. The soup is so good that I'll actually doggy-baggy it and eat it the next day. Eat this with the fixings, the red cabbage, bean sprouts, mint and lime really take this dish to another level. If you want to spice this up, I suggest you use the sriracha chili garlic sauce (has seeds in it) versus the traditional non-seed chili sauce used for pho. No hoisin allowed in here!!! $5.25

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue Bone

Centerfold of the Pork Knuckle
Usually comes with the skin on, but once you get past that, the meat is very tender.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Pork Blood Cubes

Pork Blood Cubes
Not everyone will like this, but I think it's delicious. I think of it as chocolate and gobble it up.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue Fixings

Bun Bo Hue Fixings
Red cabbage, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, mint and this one herb I can never identify. Wandering Chopsticks, Master of Vietnamese food, please identify this for me!

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong

Nem Nuong Rolls (3 for $3.75)
You can choose to order these pre-rolled or you can try and have some fun and get your hands dirty. These contain lettuce, a crispy shrimp roll, charbroiled pork and a chive. The sauce used is similar to nuoc cham, but is thicker because it has beaten egg and sometimes honey in it. The rolls are good, but not quite as good as Brodard in Little Saigon, Westminster. If you decide to order the nem nuong party pack, you'll receive a whole plate of various meats including the charbroiled pork, sour pork patties (good!) and crispy shrimp rolls. A bowl of hot water is provided for you to soak rice paper and roll your own joint up.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong Closeup

Centerfold of Nem Nuong Charboiled Pork Rolls
Cha gio egg rolls go well with pho, and these go well with Bun Bo Hue, in my opinion.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Shrimp Roll

Super Perverted Food Porn Close-Up
Notice the crispy egg rolls contain small pieces of shrimp. This is true dedication. It's like rolling a taquito within another taquito without making it big like a burrito.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong Sauce

Special Nem Nuong Sauce
Wandering Chopsticks was helpful enough to explain the sauce to me. Check out her version of nem nuong on skewers.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
1700 W Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91804
(626) 943-7645

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mien Nghia, Chinatown Los Angeles - Heaven In A Bowl

Mien Nghia Chinatown.jpg

For a while, I lost hope in finding the right Chiu Chow noodle shop in Los Angeles. My dad first introduced to me what is still now, my most favorite noodle shop - Trieu Chau Restaurant in Santa Ana located on Newhope/First St. This place only opens till 5 pm but usually has a line out the door. I don't want to gross anyone out with an experience I had here, but... ah what the hell. The food is so worth it, that I'd still come back. Caveat #1. Trieu Chau Restaurant is so packed that the practice of joining 2 parties into 1 table is all too common. I once got hooked up with a grandpa and grandma. We didn't say a word to each other as we happily slurped our noodles and soup. Until... grandma busts out her NAILCLIPPERS. Ok, I thought, that's fine, she's going to clip her fingernails. Then without notice of me, she props her food onto her chair and starts clipping away.... laying her finely incised TOENAILS onto a napkin which was already sharing real estate with a duck bone she had cleaned out. Even a National Geographic archaeologist would find it hard to carbon-14 that bone b/c it was devoid of any bone marrow. Check please. Caveat #2. I once took my friends here and as we happily slurped our noodles and soup. We all peered at the ceiling at what looked to be a neon orange cylinder with tons of black dots. Hey that's kinda nice, something you know, festive and shiny and bright. One might think it's an air freshener adorned with black crystals. We were far off the target. They were FLIES. But you know what, we could give a sh*t. The food was too good.

Anyway, it's been a good 5 years since I've eaten at TCR. All the places I've tried in Chinatown just didn't cut it. Then came along my friend Jéan Downs who emerged out of nowhere as a foodie with a strong opinion. I like that. After threatening to squash my head in a vise, he forced me try this place in Chinatown called Mien Nghia. "Meen Yee" in cantonese. Ok Ok. And boy do I owe a lot to Jéan Downs. In about two months, I've eaten here nearly 10 times and have not been disappointed. Just last week, hehe, 4 times!

Commuting from Silverlake to work, Chinatown is always a nice stopover for take-out lunch. I'd usually hit up the roach coach on Alpine for their banh cuon (pork/mushroom rice crepes) or banh mi's (sandwiches). And when I'm hungover, I'll require some soup to quell the thirst at Pho 97 or Chiu Heng. What a coincidence... my first time at Mien Nghia occurred after a wild night of drinking. Soup, my stomach says... soup.

I walked into Mien Nghia, which is next to a sandwich shop called My Dung. I know I know, it's not how it's read in English. It's pronounced "Mee Yung" in Vietnamese... but you have to just step back for a minute and smile. I was greeted and immediately seated. I love asian restaurants. For some reason, unless you're a non-asian or a gwai-lo, you're expected to know what you want even before you even sit down. Menu please... the waiter stares at me and turns for the menu.

Mien Nghia Chinatown2.jpg

That guy in the Miami Dolphins turquoise polo is funny.

Anyway, here's what I had over a period of 5 visits. And let me tell you, Mien Nghia makes a quality broth. Every sip is good. A tip for those that come here. You'll notice that there is a dark chili oil sauce... it's not really hot sauce. It's chiu chow style satay bbq sauce... similar to what Chinese use for hot pot dip. A lot of asian noodle restaurants will wing the broth by using water and chicken bouillon powder (Knorr). It tastes chickeny but it just doesn't have that weight, volume to it. Know what I mean? There's a difference between good pho broth and half-ass broth. You know who's dealing the real sh*t and who's dealing the schwag. Snoop would say that they are dealing the chronic here.

Mien Nghia Chicken Fish Noodles.jpg

Chicken and Fish Slice Egg/Rice Noodles $6.75
I am blowing up this photo and framing it in my living room. Makes me want to jump at it. The chicken is very moist and flavorful. The fish pieces are coated with a starch mix to give it that nice texture created from blanching the meat. And nothing says cherry on top of an ice cream sundae like fried shallots. This soup is nice but again, the addition of the satay bbq sauce really adds a nice taste to it. My stubborn sister refused to use the sauce but was happy once I dumped it into her bowl. This is my favorite here. The prices are higher than normal noodle shops but I think Mien Nghia really gives you a good amount of food. I'm stuffed every time I eat here. J could barely finish her bowl.

Mien Nghia Beef Stew Noodles.jpg

Beef Stew Egg/Rice Noodles $7.25
At a Chiu Chow restaurant, you'll notice the menu has Chinese, Cambodian and Vietnamese writing. Historically, Chiu Chow people travel wherever there is work and they bring their food with them. Much like the food trade in Hawaii done by Japanese, Chinese and Koreans... the same theory applies. You bring your food and offer people. Which is why you get the Vietnamese beef stew known as 'bo kho'. This is my 2nd favorite dish. It's reallly heavy and hearty but it really satisfies you. The beef shank/brisket/tendon slices are super tender and the soup is made with the right amount of tomato paste and cinnamon/anise/coriander. Mmmmm.

Beef Rib Noodle Soup.jpg

Beef Ribs with Egg/Rice Noodles $6.50
Don't order this. The broth and sauce are strange. I don't know what else to say it, but I'm putting some orange cones around this. You're better off getting a sandwich next door at My Dung.

MIen Nghia Seafood Noodles.jpg

Seafood Egg/Rice Noodles $6.75
My sister and dad ordered this. Whenever they go to a Chiu Chow restaurant, they have to eat the seafood bowl. This was taken at the Rosemead location (Mien Nghia has 3 locations). On top is a piece of shrimp fried along with a wonton skin. I didn't try this but they said it was good. My sister was unhappy until I dumped a tablespoon of satay bbq sauce in here. Sauce makes people happy. My family loved this.

Mien Nghia Wonton Noodles.jpg

Wonton Egg/Rice Noodles $5.75
No matter where I go, even Wonton Time, can't beat the real Hong Kong wonton. I ordered this with the owner's recommendation, who is very sweet and talkative. I didn't have the heart to tell her.... "I want my f*cking money back!" What they referred to as wontons was merely a small lump of ground pork blanketed by wonton skin. No texture, no taste, no stellar bite you get from a HK wonton. Caltrans.... please put some orange cones around this please.

Mien Nghia Fishcake.jpg

Yes, I know the term is quite frightening, just as shrimpcake is. Sara Lee and Entenmann's would never produce this freak of nature, but let me tell you, it's wonderful. Fish is pureed and flavored with fish sauce and sugar. It's then boiled or steamed and then deep fried to create that nice 'crust'. I substituted the fish slices for these. My favorite. In Hong Kong, I'd buy a pound of this fishcake block for like $7 and devour it with beer.

Mien Nghia Noodle Mix.jpg

Egg & Rice Noodles = Yin & Yang
You'll notice that every dish I ate has the egg & rice noodle mix. It's a Vietnamese & Chiu Chow thing - they can't decide whether or not they want egg or rice noodles... smart, ask for both!

Overall, I love this joint. Although the soup is very tasty, it's not that signature Chiu Chow broth which is made with fried garlic/shallots, pork/fish/chicken bones and I think daikon (for sweetness). I have to crown Mien Nghia with the true Noodle Whore crown. Everything on the menu is noodles. I couldn't be more happy about that. Try it out when you can. By no means, a comparison to pho or Chinese beef noodle soup... but this is big for Southeast Asians. Thanks for reading. Oh yeah, MasterCash only.

Mien Nghia - Chinatown
304 Ord St
Los Angeles, CA, 90012
(213) 680-2411

Mien Nghia - Rosemead
7755 Garvey Ave
Rosemead, CA, 91770
(626) 288-0177

Mien Nghia - San Gabriel
406 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA, 91776
(626) 570-1668

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pho 79 - Alhambra, SGV

When you do ask anyone where the best pho in SGV is served, you're likely to get 4 different replies. Golden Deli, Saigon Flavor, Vietnam House and Pho 79. But actually, it's 2 different choices since the first three are family-owned. So we'll just say Golden Deli and Pho 79. When you ask why those two on forums like Chowhound, you'll hear two types of responses. Golden Deli - good egg rolls and overall food. Pho 79, less crowded and very good pho. And I couldn't agree more.

When I take my parents to eat pho, they will push me to go to Pho 79 because they love the food as well as little wait time. This past weekend, I went with my friend on this cold day since it was so close to his pad. We walked in and faced a large dusty plant that probably hasn't been dusted in a while. I took my head out to the side and raised my hand with 2 fingers for the both of us. We were quickly seated in this 90-100 occupancy, Zagat-rated restaurant. If you're an atmosphere-seeking foodies, this might be a better choice than Golden Deli. The dusty,

Dusty Tropical Plants
I like the plants here, makes me feel like I'm in Southeast Asia. Here you can see that the waiter spotted me behind the brush. We played peek-a-boo for about 30 seconds then it got old.

More Dusty Tropical Plants
My friend and I got a window seat next to another species of plants only found in Pho 79. I felt like I was in a fish tank. For foodbloggers, window seats are the best b/c we get the maximum amount of natural light. On this day, there was an overcast. Boo.

Pho 79 Entourage
I call the employees here the entourage because there are a good 16-20 employees floating around. And they are dressed like civilians. Many times I've waved at someone I thought was an employee and got a weird look. Beware, the waiters disguises themselves... like us. One bad thing about Pho 79 is the unattentive service. You really have to get their attention by getting all of your friends to do 'the wave' like you're at a baseball game. And don't even bother asking for the check, just go to the counter and pay. They know their table numbers very well.

Vietnamese Egg Rolls (Cha Gio)
The 2nd place award for egg rolls IMO goes to Pho 79. They use the right kind of wrapping, rice paper, and fry it perfectly. My friend felt it was too chewy, a sign of not being fried long enough, and prefers Golden Deli's. For me, this is a plus because I love things with texture. These are very good!

Pho Chin Nam Gau (Golden Brisket)
For me this is the advantage Pho 79 and places like Pho Super Bowl have over Golden Deli... the golden brisket. Beautifully tender brisket with a golden lining of tendon. It almost looks like beef bacon. As for the pho, the broth color is not as beautiful as Golden Deli's and sometimes appears cloudier. Reason being... they don't clean out the impurities of broth well enough. A good bowl of pho has a nice clear brown color and no 'floaties'. The broth was also somewhat warm even before I had put in the bean sprouts. But still, a very tasty bowl of pho.

A Closeup of the Golden Brisket
I guess you can call this the royal piece of beef. I am drooling as I type.

Pho Tai (Rare Steak)
My friend's bowl of pho. He ordered the rare steak pho and as you can see, the blood has already started to pour out into the soup, making the already-cloudy soup even cloudier. A note for those that order Pho Tai - you can ask for them to put the rare beef on the side. I've seen some people dip it like fondue, separating the pho from the beef the whole time.

Overall, Pho 79 is very good. I think they are neck and neck with Golden Deli, and only slightly behind because of the cloudy broth, less-tasty cha gio and warm soup. Ask others and I'm sure you'll witness a husband-wife argument over Golden Deli and Pho 79.

Pho 79
29 S. Garfield Avenue
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 289-0239

Monday, April 02, 2007

Pho Superbowl - San Gabriel, CA

Across the street from Golden Deli and Vietnam House is a pho restaurant I've neglected for quite a while, simply in part of the delectable food you can get at the former. I drove by many times wondering what the food at Pho Super Bowl tasted. Many people know that Golden Deli serves some of the best pho and egg rolls (cha gio) in the SGV and given the three choices within the Las Tunas/Mission Dr area... how does Super Bowl sustain business? Simply because it makes a good bowl of pho.

As I drove down, I resisted all urges to turn into Golden Deli and Vietnam House. Good boy, I kept driving straight and turned left into lonely shopping center. The place looked almost desolate with only a market and cigarette shop keeping PSB company. I walked in and decided to sit outside in the patio to get better camera lighting. Next to me, a man quietly slurped his noodles. I can see that he also ordered a side of egg rolls... the peanut butter & jelly combo of Vietnamese food. One cannot eat pho without egg rolls right?

The problem with sitting outside is that you are more likely to be neglected, which happened to me. Took me a good 10 minutes to get recognized. This was my first time here so I had to go with the standard items.... Pho Chin Nam (brisket) and Cha Gio please.

Vietnamese Egg Rolls (Cha Gio)
Before I even ate these, I knew they would be so so. Any vietnamese restaurant that serves their egg roll with Chinese spring roll wrappers won't be the same. Traditionally rice paper is used to wrap the ground pork and when fried, the skin becomes crispy and blistered... promising maximum crunch with every bite. The Vietnamese that came during the 70s wave did not have access to rice paper and resorted to Chinese wrappers. The pork filling was very good and so was the nuoc cham (fish sauce dip). The egg rolls were also accompanied by a nice portion of lettuce, cold steamed noodles (bun), mint and pickled carrots/daikon. Overall very good... but god that skin!

Pho Chin Nam (Brisket)
I actually did not get this type of pho. I forgot what I ordered, but I knew it was something like chunky flank which is even fattier. I took a whiff of the piping hot bowl and it really smelled great - very strong in cloves and less anise. The color was a beautiful light brown, like Golden Deli. The beef portions were very generous with at least 9 full pieces of brisket. Now for the broth test... mmm... very nice. This was a very good bowl of pho. A note to those looking out for their weight, this particular bowl of pho was slightly oily at the top which you can see in the image. But this probably in part of my order of chunky flank beef.

A Closeup of Pho Chin Nam
The noodles were cooked the way I like them - slightly chewy and al dente. The soup stayed hot for a while because I did not add the bean sprouts in, which lowers the overall soup temperature. I don't eat pho like most people do... altering the color/taste of the soup with Sriracha and Hoisin sauce. I want to know what the pho tastes like in its purest state.

Overall, I enjoyed the pho here. PSB has a nice selection of meats to choose from, including the chunky flank and golden brisket (like Pho 79 on Garfield/Main). This is the advantage over Golden Deli, which doesn't serve golden brisket. And for many people I know, golden brisket is a must-have. The only con is PSB's egg rolls are not nearly as good as GD's. I would definitely go here again to let my friends and family test it out. So if lines are too long at Golden Deli or Vietnam House, PSB is a good alternative - it is NEVER CROWDED here. Who knows, you may even like it more. I know a few Chowhounders have crossed sides and stayed with PSB.

Pho Super Bowl
1300 E. Main St. Suite #105
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 293-7018

Monday, March 12, 2007

Chiu Heng Chiu Chow Restaurant - Chinatown, Los Angeles

Over the years, Chinatown has become less of a Chinese-populated areas. The Chinese have most east towards the San Gabriel Valley, the land of good food. The majority of incoming businesses are now run by Vietnamese, Cambodians and people from the Chiu Chow province, you can bet there's going to be some good food. You have your toy shops, jewelry stores and mom/pop shops. And of course, there's good food. On the corner of Alpine and New High street is the Alpine Plaza, a small indoor mall again, occupied by toy shops, jewelry stores and mom/pop shops. Upon walking in you'll see some old 22" inch tv's either displaying keno numbers or the news. Video games that have probably not been updated since the late 90's still beckon you to give them your shiny quarter. A dirty, worn-down pony also hopes that you will put your child on its saddle. And then there's Chiu Heng, a Chiu Chow restaurant that I've been going to since the early 90s. My dad, the true Noodle Whore, loves Chiu Chow style food. Back in my Hong Kong posting, I talked a lot about the various Chiu Chow noodles you could find. Long story short, they are located near Canton and Vietnam and have great seafood and noodle dishes.

It's not hard to recognize Chiu Heng with it's menu stickered up on the window - a standard technique used by many Asian establishments to lure you in. And the busyness doesn't stop there. Once you walk in, it looks like a garage sale: old furniture, random decor and christmas lights. This is my kind of place. Chiu Heng wears a "B" badge, but that is not inclusive of its ambiance.

A Garage Sale... Everyday!
Are you getting a headache? The lady at the register is the owner and she's a sweet lady. She always knows what I'm getting.

Don't be intimidated by the menu. There are 3-4 different languages going on: English, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian. All Chiu Chow restaurants design their menu this way because of their multi-ethnic patrons. The Chiu Chow province, historically, must've been a place for trade or stopover for people visiting from neighboring countries.

An Appetizer Whether You Want It or Not
You have to be careful here. Chiu Heng will always try to upsell you. Right when you sit down, a man with balding hair will walk up to your table and give you some Chinese fried donuts. These are not FREE. They are $2-3 for 4 pieces, so beware. If you've never had these, try them. Asian people love to dip these in porridge and in broth.

Beef Ball & Fish Cake Rice Noodles
These are what I get in ANY Chiu Chow restaurant. My dad was the one to get me hooked on thick rice noodles called (huh fun or ho fun - means river noodles). Chiu Heng makes their own beefballs that you can buy by the pound. I also add sliced fish cake which is delicious. You can buy those by the pound as well. Overall, Chiu Heng's version of this is so so. The soup is really lacking in fried shallots and pork flavor. I find myself adding more fish sauce to this to give it an ass kicking. $5.95

Beef Egg Noodle Soup
This is another so so dish. J loves yellow egg noodles from Vietnamese restaurants - and here it's just not the same. This dish is bland as well. $5.95

Overall, Chiu Heng isn't the greatest Chiu Heng restaurant. But it does serve you well when you're up at 7 am with a horrible hangover. There's another Chiu Chow restaurant on Broadway next to the Pho 79, and it's much better. But for me, it's the closest thing I can get to good Chiu Chow when I'm in the Chinatown/Silverlake area. The SGV has more Chiu Chow restaurants that are better than Chiu Heng as well. Sometimes, you just don't wanna drive so far.

Chiu Heng Restaurant
211 Alpine St # 6
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 625-2824