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

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

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