Tan Cang Newport Seafood – One Of My Favorite Restaurants In Orange County

Tan Cang Newport Seafood is basically an institution at this point in Little Saigon (Santa Ana and Garden Grove) and the San Gabriel Valley (San Gabriel and Rowland Heights).  They are known for several dishes, but famous for their lobster.  I’ve been eating here for several years now, but a recent really good meal prompted me to write a post about it.

To clarify the SGV restaurants are still affiliated with each other, but neither of the OC restaurants are affiliated with any of the others.  According to their SGV restaurants’ websites the Orange County ones are the originals, but were sold.  According to the Santa Ana restaurant’s website they are the original and the others are imposters (their site is no longer up).  This review is for the Santa Ana branch which I think is excellent.  The Garden Grove one is not as good.  The San Gabriel one was similar to the Santa Ana branch in quality.  I have not eaten at the Rowland Heights one.

Now that we got that out of the way, the food they serve here is billed as Teochew (Chao Zhou / Chiu Chow) food.  Teochew are Chinese from the Chao Shan region of China, which is eastern Guangdong.  They have their own language and their food is known for their fresh seafood and generally light cuisine (not a lot of oil, lots of steaming, braising and poaching).  It’s one of my favorite types of Chinese cuisine although it’s quite rare in the US.  Anyhow, this is not traditional Teochew food but rather is a mix of Teochew, Cantonese and Vietnamese.  The people who run the restaurant are Chinese from Vietnam and they speak a ton of languages (I’ve heard Cantonese, Teochew, Mandarin, English, Vietnamese and an Asian language I couldn’t figure out what it was).

The restaurant used to be smaller, but they renovated and doubled the size of the restaurant.  While it’s not going to knock your socks off its not a total dump like it used to be before.  The servers are generally reasonably nice although service is quick and brisk.  The short Chinese boss lady who I believe is the owner is really nice if you talk to her.

On to the food:

Kung Pao Chicken:

Most people associate kung pao chicken with Americanized-Chinese food, but it actually is a real Sichuan dish.  However, this is Tan Cang’s own take on the dish, which resembles the Americanized-Chinese version, but it’s drier without any gloppy sauce.  The chicken is very tender, slightly crispy on the outside and the sauce is a bit sweet and spicy.  I find it quite delicious.  8/10

Fried Tofu:

This is battered fried blocks of tofu topped with sautéed onions, green onions and chili.  It served with a dark soy sauce and a dish of salt and white pepper.  You can also squeeze a lime on it, which I recommend doing.  The batter is quite thin and while it looks really oily it’s actually not that heavy.  The batter is nicely crispy while the tofu retains a great soft texture.  By itself it’s rather plain, but with all the toppings, soy sauce and salt and pepper it’s delicious.  8/10

Spicy Basil Clams:

This is another popular dish, but I’m not that big a fan of it.  The clams are generally decent although not amazing quality.  However, but I find the sauce rather bland; it’s a brown sauce that is slightly spicy with black bean, basil and green peppers in it.  It’s an okay dish, but a bit of a dud.  6.75/10

Sauteed Snow Peas:

This is a classic rendition that is snow peas leaves sautéed in oil, salt and garlic.  The thing that is different is they use the really small skinny snow peas, which is not that common.  I like these small skinny snow peas more than the regular one.  7.75/10

Salt & Pepper Squid:

This is classic Cantonese style salt and pepper squid, which is squid battered in a salt and pepper battered and fried then topped with jalapeno.  Most of the time this dish is pretty decent with a good crispy batter and reasonably tender squid, but occasionally it can come out too oily. 7.75/10 (7.25/10 when they make it too greasy)

Salt & Pepper Shrimp:

Same dish as the salt and pepper squid except with shrimp.  They also give you a lime and a mix of salt and white pepper.  They do a better job on this dish as it’s always pretty delicious and never seems to be too oily. 8/10

Bo Luc Lac:

This is the French style beef in a black pepper sauce.  They don’t always cook this the same way; sometimes it’s more sauce-y and sometimes it’s drier.  The beef is nicely tender and the sauce is slightly sweet and peppery.  I like the version here better than most versions I’ve had in Little Saigon and it’s quite tasty with white rice. 8.25/10

House Special Lobster:

This is the house specialty and you will see it on every table.  You order it by the pound and the lobster are big ranging from 4-6 lbs.  They are battered in a sweet and spicy batter that is really delicious.  The lobster meat is sweet and tender and I really love the sweet roe (they are the red stuff in case you’ve never seen lobster roe).  The quality of the lobster can vary a bit; sometimes you get a great lobster and sometimes it’s just a decent lobster, but the way it’s prepared it always ends tasty.  8.5/10

Boiled Live Prawns:

This was a special from my latest trip.  These were classic Cantonese style boiled prawns served with a dark soy sauce with sesame oil and sliced jalapenos in it.  The prawns were live, huge and very fresh.  The meat was sweet with good texture and tasted great with the sauce.  I prefer slightly smaller prawns, but this was still quite good. 8.25/10

Geoduck Soup (Part Of Geoduck 3 Ways):

This was part of a special that was actually the reason I wrote this post.  The waiter told me they had live geoduck and the quality was especially good that day (I got upsold for sure).  The first way they served it was in a light soup where they had boiled the geoduck parts along with cabbage, mushrooms and other vegetables.  The result was a broth that was very light and tasted similar to a clam broth.  It was a nice light flavored soup, but it definitely needed a little white pepper to kick it up. 7.75/10

Spicy Geoduck (Part Of Geoduck 3 Ways):

This was sliced geoduck that was very quickly blanched then topped with a hot and sour sauce with basil and bean sprouts.  Everyone at the table was shocked at how good this was.  The hot and sour sauce was light and paired perfected with the basil and didn’t overpower the geoduck at all.  The geoduck meat was nicely tender and it was just generally a really good dish. 8.5/10

Geoduck Sashimi (Part Of Geoduck 3 Ways):

As a disclaimer since this was the only time I’ve had this dish here, I can’t say that it wasn’t a fluke, but wow this was amazing.  It was the standard geoduck sashimi that is sliced, put on ice and served with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.  This geoduck was so fresh; it had a good crunchy texture and tasted briny with no fishy taste whatsoever.  It was honestly a lot better than the geoduck I’ve had at top sushi restaurants in NY and LA.  It’s so simple that I can’t tell you much more to describe it other than it was really good.  Also as a side note, the geoduck 3 ways was $35 per lbs and we got 4 lbs, so it wasn’t cheap.  8.75/10

Overall, while it’s certainly not fancy, I really like the food at Tan Cang.  It’s always just delicious and really satisfying.  I highly recommend coming here.

4411 W 1st St
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(714) 531-5146

Anepalco’s Café – Literally Amazing Chilquiles in Orange

When I come home I always try to make every meal count because while I come home quite a bit, I’m never there for that long, so I try not to have any misses.  On my last trip home from the holidays, I asked on chowhound for some new Mexican recommendations in Orange County and Das Ubergeek gave me this recommendation.

Honestly, if you gave me the menu and asked me if I wanted to try this place I would’ve probably said no because the menu is a mix of Mexican and American and just looks like some type of jack of all trades master of none type of menu that wouldn’t be good, but luckily looks can be very deceiving.

The restaurant is a small non-descript café located just off the 22 freeway by the hospital and doesn’t have too much in the way of décor.  The place is tiny and probably can fit maybe 15 people comfortably.  The guys working there were nice guys.

Here’s what we got:

Anepalco’s Chilaquiles:

Chilaquiles are a Mexican dish that is made up of fried tortilla strips, red sauce, scrambled eggs, cotija cheese, sour cream, avocado mousse and pico de gallo.  When I’ve had this dish before it’s been more like fried tortilla strips with all of the sauces dumped on top.  Here they made the tortilla chips into a semi-cake and topped it with a small omelet, pico de gallo, avocado mousse and sour cream on top with the red sauce and cotija cheese on the side.  It looks much nicer than other versions I’ve had.  The tortilla chip cake is really good and the toppings were all very good, but the real standout was the red sauce and cotija cheese.  I would categorize it as amazing and I don’t say that about that many things.  It’s a little spicy and has this addicting tangy flavor that pairs just perfectly with the cotija cheese.  It was just so good.  This is definitely one of the best dishes I’ve had in a while. 9/10

Huevos Rancheros:

This was another dish that was highly recommended.  Its typical huevos rancheros consisting of tortilla, black beans, scrambled eggs, cotija cheese, avocado mousse, pico de gallo, sour cream and red sauce.  It was actually fairly similar to the chilaquiles, but with black beans and a tortilla instead of a tortilla cake.  However, it was one of the better huevos rancheros I’ve ever had and while everything was very good, it was the red sauce and cotija cheese again that really set it apart.  The flavor of that sauce with everything is just so good. While I thought it was very good, I’d give the nod to the chilaquiles. 8.5/10

I loved this place and it was one of the best new finds I’ve been to in a while.  I can’t wait to come back and try more stuff including the huevos divorciados, which were also highly recommended by the staff.  I highly recommend coming here.

415 S. Main St
Orange, CA 92868
(714) 771-2333

Luc Dinh Ky Restaurant – Delicious Com Nuong (Crispy Rice) and Nuoc Mat (Chrysanthemum Herbal Tea) in Little Saigon

Flying always sucks and on my latest trip home the weather was perfect in NY and CA yet due to “mechanical problems” my flight was delayed 2.5 hours.  So, instead of enjoying a nice leisurely dinner at 8pm, I was absolutely starving and scramming to find a place that would still be open at 11pm.  Luckily, I remembered Luc Dinh Ky, a place I’ve been meaning to try, which is open very late.

While Luc Dinh Ky is a Vietnamese restaurant, similar to my recent review of Canton Restaurant, you will see a lot of Chinese influence at Luc Dinh Ky.  The menu is about half Chinese and half Vietnamese.  They’ve got a few specialties which you see on pretty much everyone’s table including com nuong (various meats with crispy rice), chao (Cantonese style porridge), mi (Cantonese style egg noodles and noodle soup) and nuoc mat (chrysanthemum herbal tea).

The restaurant is brightly lit and doesn’t have too much in the way of décor although it is newer looking compared to a lot of the restaurants in Little Saigon, which are quite run down.  I was shocked at how crowded it was at 11pm, we actually had to wait about 10 minutes for a table and keep in mind this is 11pm in Orange County, which is pretty unheard of (I felt like I was back in NY!).  They also had a steady stream of people waiting in line for take-out.   Our waitress didn’t really speak English and didn’t seem to speak Chinese either even though their menu is translated into Vietnamese, Chinese and English, but she was nice enough and a series of pointing worked its way out.

Anyhow onto the food:

Com Nuong Ca Salmon (Salmon with Grilled Rice):

Com nuong is rice that has been lightly grilled. It’s basically the rice that you get at the bottom of the hot clay pot, which I absolutely love.  I’m not sure why you don’t see this more often as a standalone dish in East Asian food as I think all East Asian people like the crispy rice at the bottom of clay pots and all of the cultures eat rice in hot clay pots. I got the grilled salmon in a sweet sauce with cucumbers and soy sauce.  I liked the sauce a lot, it was not too sweet and wasn’t gloppy at all; the flavor was perfect with the salmon.  Dipping it in soy sauce gave it a nice contrast between the saltiness of the soy sauce and the sweetness of the sauce.  The crispiness of the rice was very nice with everything.  Overall, I liked the dish a lot; it was comfort food that was quite satisfying.  8/10

Com Nuong Bo Luc Lac (French Style Beef Steak with Grilled Rice):

This was typical bo luc lac, which is marinated beef cut into cubes grilled with onions.  The version here was quite nice, the beef was nicely tender and the sauce tasted good.  The sauce was savory and just very slightly sweet; it wasn’t quite as addictive as when I’ve had really good bo luc lac, but it still tasted great with the crispy rice. Overall, it was good and on a relative basis was above average bo luc lac for Little Saigon.  8/10

Chao Ga (Chicken Congee):

As I explained in my recent post on Canton Restaurant, congee is simply rice that is cooked with a lot more water, so instead of getting the dry rice you normally see you end up getting a thick porridge.  The congee itself is fairly plain tasting, but you add different meats and other condiments to it to give it flavor.  Normally, you eat it with you tiao, which is a long fried donut that you dip into the congee.  However, it was too late for you tiao, so we just ate it straight up. The congee had good thick consistency and was nicely creamy although not as thick and creamy as Canton Restaurant.  They garnish it with ginger, scallions and cilantro.  I also put a healthy dose of white pepper into the congee.  Normally, I get the pork and preserved egg, but my sister thought chicken sounded food, so we got chicken.  It was all white breast meat and it was reasonably tender, but personally I find chicken is a little too light in flavor for congee.  Overall, it was good congee although not quite as good as Canton Restaurant, but very solid nonetheless.  8.25/10

Nuoc Mat:

This was iced herbal tea that was made with chrysanthemum flowers.  It was sweet, but not overly sweet and had light chrysanthemum and a slightly herbal taste to it, but it wasn’t strong at all.  It tasted like a better version of the sweet tea that people drink in the South. This tea was really good and I ended up buying a bunch that they have in refrigerators to bring home. 8.5/10

Overall, I enjoyed the food here and while I don’t think it’s the best restaurant in Little Saigon, it was very satisfying and if you need food late night this would be a good spot to try.  Also, I’m looking forward going back to try their mi (egg noodle soups) as they looked delicious.

9600 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 775-8811

Canton Restaurant – Delicious Cantonese Fish Congee (Porridge) and Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Turmeric Fish with Dill) in Little Saigon

Canton Restaurant is emblematic of something that I’ve found over my time trying to discover everything that Little Saigon has to offer, which is that Chinese influence is fairly prevalent in Vietnamese cuisine.

Canton Restaurant specializes in two dishes, one is completely Chinese and the other is completely Vietnamese.  The specialties I’m speaking of are Cantonese-style fish porridge (congee) and Vietnamese cha ca thang long, which is turmeric fish with dill.

I did a little research on Wikipedia and turns out ~1% of Vietnam’s population is Chinese, but it is significantly higher in some bigger cities, making up ~6% of Ho Chi Minh City’s population.  As it turns out the main Chinese ethnicities are Cantonese and secondarily Teochew.  All of this seems to jive with what I see when I visit Little Saigon as all of the Chinese-Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon are either serving Cantonese or Teochew food.  I really like the combination of Chinese and Vietnamese food as they complement each other very well.

The restaurant looks like a typical Little Saigon restaurant meaning it has no décor to speak of.  Like most Chinese-Vietnamese places everything is translated into Vietnamese, Chinese and English.  The waitress was nice, however she didn’t really speak English although she seemed to sort of understand me when I spoke to her in Mandarin.  However, the boss guy and boss lady were able to speak some Mandarin, I heard them speaking Cantonese and they obviously spoke Vietnamese as the entire customer base was Vietnamese except for us and one older Cantonese gentleman.  It was an interesting communication experience, but they were pretty nice.

Anyhow, onto the food:

Cha Ca Thang Long:

This is white fish filets (not sure what type of fish) covered in turmeric powder and cooked on a cast iron skillet with onions and dill.  It’s served with a plate of fresh vegetables (lettuce, mint, cilantro, lime, onions, jalapeno and peanuts), banh da (black sesame rice crackers), rice noodles and a fermented shrimp and fish sauce.  The fish has a turmeric and dill flavor and also a smoky flavor from being on the skillet.  The fish is very tender and not fishy at all.  The seasonings are a little more heavy-handed than at Vien Dong, which is where I normally get this dish, but the rendition here is still excellent.  The fermented shrimp and fish sauce is sweet, but has a fairly strong flavor to it; however, the version here is not as strong as at Vien Dong. The way I like to eat it is to wrap the fish, rice cracker, noodles and peanuts into a lettuce wrap and then dip it in the fermented shrimp and fish sauce.  Overall, this was very good, I’d give Vien Dong a very slight nod on this dish because I feel like their version is more delicate, but it’s a close call. 8.25/10

Fish Congee:

Congee is simply rice that is cooked with a lot more water, so instead of getting the dry rice you normally see you end up getting a thick porridge.  The congee itself is fairly plain tasting, but you add different meats and other condiments to it to give it flavor.  It is usually eaten for breakfast and it’s sort of like Chinese chicken noodle soup in that people always want it when they are sick.  You also eat it with you tiao, which is a long fried donut that you dip into the congee.  The congee here is on the thick side and it tastes creamy, which is how it should taste.  They are quite generous with the amount of fish they give you and the fish was very good; it was a white fish that wasn’t fishy tasting at all and the texture was very tender, but not mushy.  They garnish it with ginger, scallions and cilantro, which really taste great with everything.  I also like to put a healthy dose of white pepper into the soup.  This tastes like classic excellent congee; this is comparable to what you find at a regular congee place in Hong Kong.  The you tiao was decent although it wasn’t freshly fried, but the combo of you tiao and congee is a must for me.  This is very much a comfort food for me and I don’t know if non-Chinese people will enjoy this as much as I do, but this was probably the best congee I’ve had in CA. 8.5/10

Soda Chanh:

Soda chanh is soda water, fresh lime and sugar mixed together.  I think it’s one of the most refreshing drinks so I get it pretty much every time I get Vietnamese food.  The version here was pretty decent, a little more of the lime flavor than most places, but still good.  7.75/10

Overall, I enjoyed the food here a lot.  If you want fish congee or cha ca thang long, this is definitely a place you want to check out.

8550 Westminster Blvd
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 892-2022

My Nguyen Restaurant – Solid Vietnamese Family Style Food in Little Saigon

My Nguyen is a family style Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon.  It’s been on my list of restaurants to try in Little Saigon for a while and I finally decided to stop in on my last trip back to CA.  According to the reviews I’ve read the restaurant is known for its fried calamari, caramelized claypot catfish and hot and sour catfish soup.

The restaurant is located in small strip mall.  It’s pretty typical Little Saigon décor meaning there isn’t that much.  There is a big flat screen TV playing Vietnamese variety shows and for some reason they keep the volume up reasonably loud, so you can hear what is on the TV.  I had no idea what they were saying, but the old people in restaurant seemed to be enjoying the show.  The customer base is 100% Vietnamese families having big dinners (I’m talking like 10-12 people).  The waiters spoke enough English to get by and the service was nice albeit brisk.

I believe the people who run it maybe ethnically Chinese as the name is written in Chinese, the menu is written in Chinese (plus Vietnamese and English), a lot of the decorations are Chinese (stuff that is supposed to be good luck for businesses) and the menu features a lot of Chinese food on it.  Also, according to some of the reviews I read another dish that the restaurant is known for is their Hainan chicken (a poached chicken that originated from Hainan, China and is popular in most of southeast Asia in particular Singapore and Malaysia).

Here’s what we got:

Jellyfish Seafood Salad:

This was a salad that consisted of julienned jellyfish, papaya strips, carrots, cucumber, mint leaf, cilantro, thinly sliced pork, shrimp and crushed peanuts that was dressed in a light, sweet and tangy dressing.  I thought it was quite good, it was very refreshing and the dressing they used on it went well with it.  It sort of reminded me of the Isaan Thai dish som tum, which is a spicy papaya salad except it wasn’t spicy and was much lighter in flavoring.  Overall, this was a good dish. 8/10

Fried Calamari (Muc Lan Bot Chien):

This is one of the house specialties and you saw it on every table.  It was different than I was expecting.  I was expecting it to be similar to Chinese salt and pepper squid where the batter is made salty as I’ve had stuff like that at other Vietnamese restaurants.  Instead the batter wasn’t salty at all and it was more similar to how most American batter is flavored.  The strips of squid were cut very thin, which was also a surprise.  It was fried very nicely as it was not oily at all and then wasn’t over battered.  Because it was so thinly sliced each piece is very crispy.  They give you nuoc mam (fish sauce) and a soy sauce with jalapenos in it.  I thought it was better with the soy sauce as it needed the salt.  Overall, it was quite good although not quite as good as some reviews made it out to be. 7.75/10

Whole Fried Fish (Ca Chien):

This was a fried pomfret that was prepared very simply in a light batter and then fried.  It was served with nuoc mam (fish sauce) that had some chilis in it.  It was a little hard to eat with chopsticks, but it was tasty.  It was nicely fried and the meat was tender.  I liked the dish. 7.75/10

Caramelized Claypot Catfish (Ca Kho To):

This is a Vietnamese dish that I love.  It consists of filets of catfish that are cooked in a claypot (in this case an iron pot) in a sauce made from soy sauce and sugar.  The result is a beautifully tender fish in a salty and sweet sauce that is wonderful.  The version here was good and the sauce was addictive as we were literally pouring it all over our rice even after we finished all the meat.  I will say it’s not as good as the version at Xanh which is exceptional, but it is better than most other restaurants I’ve tried it at in Little Saigon. 8.5/10

Hot and Sour Catfish Soup (Canh Chua):

This was the first time I’ve ever tried this dish and it was quite a bit different than what I was expecting.  I was expecting something that would be quite sour and instead it turned out to be sweet and sour.  The broth was very light and refreshing; it was infused with the flavor of the catfish, tamarind and pineapple (I believe the pineapple is was what made it sweet).  It had a variety of other vegetables, many of which I could not identify.  It was a well cooked as the broth was complex and very fragrant in the way you can only get when you cook soup correctly.  The catfish was nice and was not fishy at all.  Overall, I thought it was a very well prepared dish although the sweetness threw me off a little.  7.75/10

I thought everything was solidly good.  I’d recommend it for a family style meal.  Also, it was very cheap; all of this food which was too much for the four of us was around $50.

14282 Brookhurst St Ste 9
Garden Grove, CA 92843
(714) 839-5541

Dat Thanh – Revelatory Nem Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patty Spring Rolls) and Great Com Tam (Broken Rice) in Little Saigon

Dat Thanh is a nem nuong and com tam specialist.  Nem nuong is a type of Vietnamese spring roll that is made up of a grilled long and thin minced pork patty that is wrapped in rice paper wrapper with vegetables and fried crispy bits of wrappers.  If you ask around about nem nuong you usually hear about Brodard Restaurant who is famous for it.  However, I heard about Dat Thanh and decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did.

Dat Thanh is located in a small non-descript strip mall in Little Saigon.  The restaurant is tiny and probably can sit about 15-16 people max.  It is new looking and is probably one of the cleanest restaurants I’ve been to in Little Saigon.  There is an open air kitchen where you can see them cooking although there’s not much to see as it’s really a two man operation with the owner working the cash register and dealing with customers and his father cooking in back.

I spoke with the owner who is a Vietnamese-American guy who worked a bunch of different restaurants such as Fleming’s Steakhouse in Newport Beach.  His family had been in the restaurant business before and he decided he wanted to go back to his roots and open a Vietnamese restaurant.  He’s quite nice and talkative; he seems to take a lot of pride in the quality of his food, which I obviously appreciate a lot.

Here’s what we got:

Nem Nuong Cuon (Grilled Pork Patty Spring Roll):

While Brodard’s version is quite good Dat Thanh’s version takes it up a notch.  Dat Thahn’s nem nuong was revelatory for me. It was similar experience to my reaction to the banh cuon at Pho Tau Bay which completely changed my view of that dish.  While I previously liked nem nuong cuon, but didn’t think it was amazing.  Here I thought it was amazing.  The rice wrapper was very fresh and you could tell it hadn’t been pre-wrapped and rather was wrapped to order; the wrapper is thinner and much better than the one at Brodard.  The vegetables (lettuce, mint leaf and green onion) were all fresh and great tasting.  The nem nuong was juicy and flavorful and I thought stood out against Brodard’s version.  The crispy pieces of fried wrapper inside the roll gave it a great crispy texture that contrasts well with the meat, wrapper and vegetables.  The sauce is similar to Brodard although I do think Brodard’s version is slightly better as I thought it was a bit too sweet, but the nem nuong cuon itself is much better here.  Overall, this was so good.  I actually took my mom here the following weekend because I thought it was so good, she thought it was amazing as well.  Fyi, for me I use the sauce for half of the roll and then I use chili paste and nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) for the other half of the roll.  I think you’ll find that if you try it with one sauce and then with another the flavor is quite a bit different.  9/10

Chao Tom Cuon (Grilled Shrimp Patty Spring Roll):

I got the combination so I could try both the nem nuong (pork patty) and chao tom (shrimp patty).  This was exactly the same except with the shrimp patty.  This version was very good as well although I prefer the nem nuong as it’s more flavorful.  8/10

Com Tam Pork Chop Combo:

I got the pork chop combination which included shrimp cake wrapped in fried tofu skin, pork chop, shrimps on a skewer, bi (shredded pork, pork skin with rice powder) and a steamed egg omelet.  First, com tam (broken rice) is fractured grains of rice (which I believe were discarded back in the day and used by poor peasants), so the grains of rice are very short and have a dryer consistency that is different than most rice that I really like (hard to explain, but you’ll like it). The rice here was even better than my gold standard Com Tam Tran Qui Cap, which has been my go to for com tam.  The consistency was really nice and the owner told me he thinks very few places get their com tam right because they don’t take the time to cook it correctly. The shrimp cake wrapped in fried tofu skin was nicely freshly fried and had good flavor although I do think that Com Tam Tran Qui Cap’s version is better.  The version here was more spongy and rubbery and although it was still good CTTQC’s version is stunning.  The pork chop was good; it was tender and flavorful and was on par with CTTQC’s version.  The shrimps on a skewer were also nicely flavored and tender on par with CTTQC’s version.  The bi (shredded pork, pork skin with rice powder) was by far the best version I’ve ever had because normally I think of it as an after-thought, but the flavor and the texture from the rice powder was really good, the owner told me it’s because they make their own rice powder for the dish whereas most other places use pre-bought stuff.  The steamed omelet was good as well and was more flavorful than other places.  This was excellent; I really enjoyed their com tam as well. 8.5/10

Com Tam Short Rib Combo:

This was the same except with a short rib that tasted fairly similar to Korean kalbi.  The short rib was tender and flavorful and I thought it was on par with CTTQC’s version. 8.5/10

Iced Vietnamese Coffee:

This was typical iced Vietnamese coffee, but it was pretty good.  It wasn’t too bitter or too sweet.  7.75/10

Soda Chanh:

Soda chanh is soda water, lime and sugar.  It’s really refreshing and the version here was one of the best versions I’ve had in Little Saigon as it wasn’t too sweet and had enough lime where you could really taste it.  8.5/10

Overall, this is one of the best restaurants I’ve found in Little Saigon.  I highly recommend coming here.

10032 Mcfadden Ave
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 650-0910

Hapa J – Great Hawaiian Food in San Clemente

Hapa J’s is located in San Clemente, which isn’t exactly a food destination as there isn’t much down there.  However, Hapa J’s is sort of an unlikely oasis of good food down there.  They serve Hawaiian food some of which is normal Hawaiian food and some of which is sort of fusion-y as it’s a little bit different than the regular style.

We spoke to the owner (Justin) for a while.  He was previously living in Hawaii and working at a hotel there. Justin and a chef from the hotel decided to open up a restaurant here to bring Hawaiian food back to the mainland as there wasn’t much available here.  I really like Hawaiian food so it’s great to have somewhere that is a little closer than having to trek all the way to Gardena for it plus I have some family down there, so it’s doubly convenient for me.

The inside is divided into two areas.  One side is a more casual area (where we sat) that has lots of tables and chairs, the other side is a more upscale side that looks more like it’s for bigger groups.  It’s got a nice casual feel to it. The service was good and attentive.

Here’s what we got:

Kalua Pig Quesadillas:

This was a quesadilla with pulled pork, cheese, topped with an avocado sour cream sauce and chipotle aioli.  There was also salsa on the side.  These were really good, the pork was tender and flavorful and the sauces on top were also good.  This is one of the more fusion-y dishes I was talking about, but it was good and I would definitely get this again.  It’s the type of dish I would like with a beer.  7.75/10

Ahi Poke:

This was ahi cut into cubes and mixed with sesame seasoning and drizzled with a spicy aoli sauce, seaweed and pickled ginger.  The ahi was good quality ahi and it tasted good with the sauce although because it was good quality I think I would’ve preferred it served the traditional way with just soy sauce, sesame oil and chili powder.  That said it was still pretty good.  7.75/10

Spicy Chicken Wings:

These were similar to Korean fried chicken, but a little less crispy and not quite as sweet or spicy.  They were pretty tasty, the chicken was tender and the seasoning was a good, it was a little bit on the salty side, but I liked these and I’d get them again.  7.75/10

Spam Masubi and Portguese Sausage:

I love spam masubi and I love Portuguese sausage, so this is an awesome combo for me.  This was the best spam masubi I’ve had in a long time.  Spam masubi is sort of a sushi with spam that has been sautéed in teriyaki sauce. The rice was seasoned with furikake, which is a Japanese dry seasoning made up of a mixture of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar and salt.  They cut it in half and drizzled it with teriyaki sauce.  I really liked this.  The Portuguese sausage was served simply sautéed and it was very tasty as well.  The owner said they found a local butcher to make it for them. I highly recommend getting this dish. 8.5/10

Loco Moco:

Loco moco is very Hawaiian dish.  It’s a grilled hamburger patty, eggs over easy over rice and then smothered in brown gravy. I haven’t had this in many years and it was really good here.  The hamburger and egg were both cooked perfectly and the gravy on top was really tasty.  I forgot how much I like this dish.  I highly recommend. 8.25/10


This was simply a salad tossed in vinaigrette.  It was a very simple, but it tasted good.  7.75/10

Hawaiian Style Bread Pudding:

This was interesting, it was King’s Hawaiian sweet bread infused with white chocolate. It was pretty rich, but I thought it was pretty good.  It had an almost citrus-y flavor so I’m not quite sure what they flavored it with.  The sweet crème sauce on top was pretty good. Overall, it was pretty good. 7.75/10

Overall, I really liked this place; it was good comfort type food.  I recommend coming here if you’re in the area.

2016 S. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672
(949) 276-6657

Thanh Son – Awesome Tofu / Soy Bean Milk Store in Garden Grove

I found Thanh Son via Yelp and I’ve been going every time I come home from NY.  Thanh Son specializes in soy bean products such as tofu and soy bean milk.  They also sell a variety of Vietnamese snacks.

It’s a small store in a relatively new looking strip small.  The store is actually fairly clean and new looking as opposed to most places in Little Saigon which look run down and sort of dirty.  On the left side of the store they have refrigerators that have soy bean milk, tofu and various other products they make.  The middle section has the cashier, fruits and a sort of steam table set up with a variety of fried tofu that they make.  The right side has a table of various Vietnamese snacks and dried goods.

Here’s what I got on my last trip:

Sua Dau Nanh (Pandan Flavored Soy Bean Milk):

This is the main reason I come here.  They make great soy bean milk here.  It’s very clean tasting, not powdery, not too sweet and generally has a good flavor. I really like the pandan flavored one (hence the reason it is green). Pandan is a type of leaf that is used extensively in southeast Asian food (Malaysian, Vietnamese etc).  It has a particular flavor that I find hard to describe as it’s pretty unique, the closest I can explain it is sort of coconut-y, but not really.  It tastes so good with the soy bean milk, my GF who doesn’t even like soy bean milk thinks this version is pretty good.  I could drink this everyday.  8.5/10

Bahn Bo Nuong (Baked Rice Cake):

I randomly got this last time.  It looks like bread, but it’s actually a rice cake.  It has a somewhat glutinous texture and tastes similar to this Cantonese rice cake thing I used to eat when I was a kid. It’s sort of just sweet, not much more to it than that. It was decent, but I didn’t love it. 6.75/10

Fried Tofu:

I got the wrong one, I got one before that was stuffed with meat, noodles and mushrooms and that one was really good.  This was just fried tofu with no real flavoring to it, so it was kind of plain.  It tasted much better when you put some sriracha sauce on it.  If you go here get the one that is stuffed with meat not this one. 6.75/10

I didn’t get tofu this time, but they do have good tofu as well.

Overall, I really like the soy bean products at this place and I highly recommend it for that.

9688 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 534-2100

Hien Khanh – Awesome Vietnamese Dessert Shop in Garden Grove

This summer I found Hien Khanh by accident when I was going to Thanh Son, now I pretty much come here every time I’m back at home from NY.

Hien Khanh specializes in che (Vietnamese sweet soups) and xoi (sweet or savory glutinous rice). It’s located in a small strip mall in Little Saigon. There isn’t any décor to speak of and the place is basically just a big cafeteria style steam table which has various desserts and other goods and there are some small refrigerators in the back.

I don’t think most of workers speak English very well, but they can speak enough to get by and I’ve sort of figured out what I’ve liked by just going there a few times. Plus everything is laid out in front of you, so it’s very easy to figure out what you’re ordering.

Here’s what I got last time:

Che Ba Mau:

This is a drink / dessert made from mung beans, red bean, coconut milk, tapioca, these multi colored jellies and a mung bean paste that tastes like custard. It’s served cold with semi-crushed ice. I eat it with a spoon and a straw. I really love che ba mau and this is the best version I’ve ever had. Everything tastes awesome and I really like the mung beans and the mung bean paste that tastes like custard. It’s reasonably rich and my mom who doesn’t even like rich desserts thought this was really good. I highly recommend getting this. 8.5/10


I think this maybe the best flan I’ve ever had. It looks similar to the Mexican flan except the flan is so light, so much lighter than the Mexican version. The caramel sauce at the bottom is great and really goes well with the flan, it’s not too sweet and just perfect. I could eat this all the time. 8.5/10

Sua Chua (Yogurt):

This is a Vietnamese yogurt that is very thick. It’s sweet and sour at the same time, it tastes sort of like Pink Berry although it’s a yogurt not a frozen yogurt and it’s more creamy. I like this a lot although it’s probably not as good as the other desserts, but it’s worth trying especially if you don’t like things that are too sweet as this is not too sweet. 7.75/10

Xoi Man:

This was a dish that was savory as opposed to sweet, but it looked really good so I decided to get it. It’s sticky rice that is topped with Chinese sausage, shredded pork, golden fried onions, dried shrimp and diced green onions. The combination of flavors is really great and goes great with the texture of the sticky rice, I really liked this dish. Also, the sticky rice was sticky, but not really heavy like some sticky rice. I highly recommend this although I really tastes a lot more Chinese than Vietnamese. 8.25/10

Xoi Nep Than:

This is black sticky rice was smeared with mung bean paste (same one that tastes like custard), sprinkled with sesame seeds, salt and shredded coconut. It also comes with a hot sweet coconut milk sauce that has tapioca in it, which you pour over it. This was also really good. 8/10

Overall, I really like this place; everything is really high quality and fresh. I’ve really grown to like Vietnamese desserts quite a bit. I want to come back and try every dish they have to figure out what the best ones are. I highly recommend this place.

9784 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 537-5105

Yu’s Garden – Pretty Decent Taiwanese Food in Irvine

Yu’s Garden is located in the small Chinese / Asian area of Irvine off the Jeffrey exit on the 5 freeway.  There are several Chinese places in the two strip malls there and most of them are Taiwanese.  In general, the best place out of all of them is probably A&J (Ban Mu Yuan), but A&J is really the Taiwanese take on mainly northern Chinese dishes or Taiwanese breakfast on the weekends, so they don’t have a lot of more “classic” Taiwanese dishes.  They’ve left that to places such as Yu’s Garden.

I believe Yu’s Garden either changed owners or management because the manager who runs the place is the lady who used to run Nice Time Deli which is about 3 doors down.   She is extremely friendly and the service is actually pretty good here.  Both the service and the food have improved since the prior management.

The place is fairly small and probably sits around 25 people or so.  It has two types of food: 1) a steam table type set up with various cold dishes and hot dishes laid out on display; it will remind you of a bian dang (lunch box) type restaurants in Taiwan and 2) an actual sit down menu.  The food at the steam table part is actually pretty decent, but in this trip we ordered off the sit down menu.  When you sit they will ask if you if you want zhou (rice porridge) or rice with your meal and then will bring you a big bowl of it.

Here’s what we got:

Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji):

Three cup chicken is called three cup chicken because it uses sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine.  The dish consists of diced chicken on the bone that has been cooked with the previously mentioned ingredients as well as basil, sugar and ginger in a clay pot kind of thing.  The result is tender chicken that is slightly crispy on the outside is a semi sweet sauce.  The chicken was nice and tender and easy to get off the bone.  The sauce was not overly sweet or gloppy and tasted good.  I thought this was a good rendition of the dish.  7.75/10

Egg Omelet with Sliced Radish:

The picture looks like a regular omelet however there are finely sliced radish strips in the omelet, but given radish’s mild flavor it will taste pretty similar to a regular omelet albeit with more texture.  This was pretty good and a nice compliment to the other dishes.  I recommend getting some chili oil or paste to eat with this.  7.5/10

Shredded Pork with Dried Tofu (Xiang Gan Rou Si):

I’m a big fan of this dish which is shredded pork sautéed with a type of dried smoked tofu (dou gan).  Sometimes they put chilis or sliced spicy green peppers in it as well, but they do not here. The pork was nice and tender and the dou gan tasted nice as well.  It was not overly salty or oily either.  However, I did think it was missing a dimension of flavor that a great version has and I would’ve preferred some spicy peppers and maybe some more scallions, but overall it tasted good.  7.5/10

Egg Flower Soup (Dan Hua Tang):

I originally ordered fish ball soup, but they ran out so I ordered this because my sister likes it.  While I’m not a huge fan of egg drop soup the version here was surprisingly good.  It was very light and not overly salty.  It also tasted of sesame oil which was a nice touch with the flavor of the egg.  It turned out to be a good compliment to the meal.  7.5/10

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised and I think the food has gotten better overtime.  It’s not a destination restaurant as you can get better in the SGV, but if you’re in the area or if you live in OC and want Taiwanese food it’s worth checking out.

5408 Walnut Ave
Irvine, CA 92604
(949) 654-2366

Favori – Delicious Vietnamese Catfish and Crab in Little Saigon

Little Saigon is the oldest and largest Vietnamese community in the U.S. I also believe it is the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. A few years ago I realized it would be a shame for me not to start exploring it and subsequently it has become my favorite place to eat in Orange County. Since I don’t live in CA anymore, it’s taken me a while to go through my long laundry list of restaurants I want to try, but I’ve been slowing chipping away at it. You can see some of my old reviews here, here, here and here.

Favori is a restaurant that is on the outskirts of Little Saigon in Santa Ana. It is known for its baked catfish and I’ve been meaning to try it for a long time. The restaurant is dimly lit and the decor is straight 1970s or 1980s cheesy French restaurant décor, but it is reasonably upscale for a restaurant in Little Saigon. The service was pretty good and our server was a very nice guy.

On to the food:

Crab Sauteed in Tamarind Sauce (Cua Xào Me):

I was debating between the hot pot and this, but given we only had 4 people, I decided the hot pot would be too much food. This was a whole crab that I believe was steamed and then sautéed in a sweet tamarind sauce. The sauce was quite sweet with chunks of tamarind in it, but very good, you could distinctively taste the tamarind. The crab meat was sweet and good and tasted great with the tamarind sauce. The only knock was that it was a pain to eat because of the way they cut the legs and the claws which sort of left them all together. Overall though I thought this was excellent. 8.25/10

Crispy Rice Noodles with Beef and Seafood (Phở Áp Chảo):

I wanted a carb dish and decided to get pho ap chao. The version here was great; its a sort of pancake of noodles all fried together then covered with a heap of seafood, beef, vegetables and cilantro in a brown gravy. Even though the noodles were very fried, they didn’t taste oily at all. The brown gravy was light, flavorful and not gloppy. The ingredients all tasted good. The flavor is similar to Cantonese beef hor fun, but the noodles are obviously much more crispy. Overall, I thought it was really good, probably the best pho ap chao I’ve had. 8/10

Whole Baked Catfish (Cá Nướng Mỡ Hành):

We weren’t sure what size to get, so we ordered the medium. We were shocked at how big the fish was when it came out. I think they cut it across the bottom to splay it all out, flash fry it to make the skin crispy and then bake it. The exterior is golden brown, covered in diced scallions and crushed peanuts. They give you two types of sauces is one is the orange Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm) and the other is a fermented shrimp paste sauce that smells strong, but is actually quite mild in flavor and is a bit sweet. I preferred the fermented shrimp sauce. They give you dried rice paper which you dip into a bowl of warm water, then put the lettuce, pickled daikon, condiments, sauce and catfish into it, roll it all up and eat it. The skin of the catfish is unbelievably crispy like as crispy or more crispy than peking duck or suckling pig. The skin is amazing tasting, I loved it. The meat is very soft to the point where it’s almost mushy and it’s not gamey or muddy tasting at all. When you wrap everything together and dip it into the sauce it’s so good. I really liked this dish a lot. 8.75/10

Soda Chanh:

Their soda chanh was just okay here. It was a bit sweeter than I like and not enough lemon flavor for me. 7/10

Durian Shake:

Their durian shake was weak, it was way too sweet and didn’t have nearly durian in it although I guess you might like that if you don’t like durian. 7/10

Overall, I really liked this place. The food was really good and I would definitely come back here. Highly recommend.


3502 W 1st St Santa Ana, CA 92703

(714) 531-6838


El Chinaco – Delicious Pupusas in Costa Mesa

Pupusas are an El Salvadorean dish that is a thick corn tortilla (think way thicker than a regular tortilla) that is filled with various things like cheese, meats etc that is totally closed (i.e. there is no opening to the interior).  They are grilled on a griddle with a little bit of oil.  When you drive around Latino areas of LA and Orange County you see places selling these all over the place as I believe they’re pretty popular.  Many years ago I first tried them at El Chinaco and I was really surprised at how good they are.  I recently stopped by here after Tacos & Tacos on my latest trip to show my GF what a pupusa is because she’s never seen nor heard of them (I’ve never seen one in NY although I’m sure they exist somewhere in NY).

El Chinaco is on 19th Street where most of the good Mexican / Latino food is in Costa Mesa.  Unlike most other restaurants in the area, it’s not a complete dive.  The interior looks like an upscale fast food type of place; it’s very clean and new looking.  The staff is friendly and the service is pretty decent.  The clientele is all over the place, but mainly a Latino clientele.

Chicharron Pupusa:

this is filled chicharron which is not the fried pork rind you normally think of, but is a paste of ground pork that is very tender and delicious.  It’s pretty self explanatory, but the exterior is really good, slightly crispy from being grilled on the griddle and the interior is awesome.  You eat it with a type of salsa that is more of a thicker tomato paste than a normal salsa and it is sweeter than normal salsa, but it goes really well with the pupusa. They also give you a cold pickled shredded cabbage on the side that is a really nice complement to the pipping hot pupusa. Be careful as it’s served so hot it melts the plastic forks you get. Also they have free fried green chilis with some salt on them you can pick up, they’re really flavorful and good, but be forewarned they are quite spicy.  Really good, definitely recommend. 8/10

560 19th St
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 722-8632

Tacos & Tacos – Really Good Tacos Al Pastor in Costa Mesa

19th Street is where most of the good Mexican food is in Costa Mesa and when I’m back at home in CA, I usually make at least one stop there.   I had heard that Tacos & Tacos, which I believe may have been called Tacolandia before, had good tacos al pastor.  Tacos al pastor are spicy spit-grilled pork (think of how a shawarma is cooked) that has been marinated for a long time.  When done correctly, it is very tender and flavorful.  Along with carnitas it is one of my favorite types of Mexican food and tacos are in turn one of my favorite foods in general.

Tacos & Tacos is a typical divvy Mexican joint with no real décor to speak of.  The people are pretty nice who work there and the clientele is mainly Mexican.

Tacos al pastor:

Wow this was really good, the meat was really tender and flavorful.  Not overly salty and has that great sort of spicy flavor that good tacos al pastor have.  It’s sort of hard to explain, but go try one and you’ll know what I’m saying.  These were the best tacos al pastor I’ve had in recent memory. 8.25/10


The chips and salsa were solid as well, they were fresh and the salsas they had were really good. 8/10

Short review, but this place is great and definitely worth trying out if you’re in the Costa Mesa area


580 W 19th St

Costa Mesa, CA 92627

(949) 645-0481