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