The Best Restaurants In Little Saigon guide image


The Best Restaurants In Little Saigon

The 21 best places to eat in Orange County’s Little Saigon.

Located primarily in the town of Westminster, but also including the cities of Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, and Santa Ana, Orange County’s Little Saigon is the largest and oldest Vietnamese community in the country. Many of America’s first Vietnamese-owned restaurants and businesses were established here in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and many are still thriving today. All it takes is a drive down Bolsa Ave. or a walk around the Asian Garden Night Market to realize how truly ingrained restaurants are in the fabric of the community.

But that also means when it comes to finding great food, your options are endless. Ask 15 people what their favorite version of a certain dish is here, and you’ll get 25 different answers - plus someone across the room yelling to not believe any of them. It’s a complicated endeavor, but not an impossible one, especially now that you have this guide. From tiny family-run diners to pho specialists to legendary spring roll spots, here are the 21 best restaurants in OC’s Little Saigon.

The Spots

Song Long Restaurant

Our Favorite Dishes: Cha Ca Thang Long (Sizzling Catfish), Escargot, Bo Kho (beef stew)

In an area filled with neighborhood staples, Song Long stands as perhaps its most iconic. This family-run restaurant is one of the oldest in Little Saigon (it opened in 1981 as a French bakery) and is now a place where families and large groups of friends gather daily to eat both Vietnamese and French specialties. Everyone is eating the cha ca thang long, a dill-and-turmeric infused catfish dish that’s one of our favorites in all of Little Saigon, but don’t ignore the bo kho stew, cooked with cinnamon, or the escargot appetizer, which we’d put against any version in town.

Our Favorite Dishes: Oxtail Pho, Vietnamese Coffee

In reality, you could spend an entire month trying every pho spot in Little Saigon - and most of them would pretty damn delicious. But if you’re short on time and simply looking for the best, go to Pho 79. The landmark Vietnamese restaurant in Garden Grove, open since 1982, is one of the most well-known restaurants in all of Orange County, and there’s an hour-long wait almost every day to prove it. But frankly, we’d wait two hours for pho this good. You can put a variety of different meats into the soup (the oxtail is their signature), but at the end of the day, it’s about the broth. Simmered in oxtail for 12 hours and infused with star anise, it’s rich, cinnamon-y, and unlike any other pho you’ll find in California. Cash only.

Our Favorite Dishes: Nem Nuong Cuon (Grilled Pork Spring Rolls)

Another one of Little Saigon’s most popular restaurants, Brodard features a massive menu full of solid Vietnamese dishes, but everyone is here for the nem nuong cuon. Stuffed with savory and sweet pork sausage, cucumber, lettuce, and crunchy deep-fried bits of rice paper, bound tightly in a soft rice paper wrapping, then dipped in a fantastic pork-and-peanut-filled plum sauce, they’re the most flavorful, texturally complex spring rolls we’ve ever had. They’re also what put Brodard on the map, with good reason.

Our Favorite Dishes: Bo 7 Mon (Seven-Course Beef), Baked Catfish

Thien An serves one of the most memorable meals in the neighborhood - the Bo 7 Mon. It’s a seven-course dinner (for $21.99 per person) featuring beef served seven different ways: boiled, griddled, steamed, minced, sausage-d, salad-ed, and, uh, soup-ed. Each course comes out separately, giving you a chance to compare, contrast, and fight over which is the best. Note: When the food is this incredible, there will never be a consensus. If you want to break up the meat parade a bit, throw in their excellent baked catfish as well.

Our Favorite Dishes: Com Tam (Broken Rice)

Plain and simple, Com Tam Thuan Kieu’s broken rice platter is the best value in Little Saigon. Located in a strip mall right on Bolsa Ave., this low-key spot doesn’t have the big crowds or high energy of some of the surrounding restaurants, and that’s exactly what we like about it. This is the kind of place you come to after a long day, sit in blissful silence, and eat an $13.50 platter of broken rice (fractured rice grains) topped with seven different items that range from grilled pork to egg rolls to tofu shrimp paste. But perhaps the best thing about a meal at Com Tam is the fact you’ll have leftovers tomorrow. Cash only.

Our Favorite Dishes: BBQ Beef Banh Mi, Tuna With Egg Banh Mi

Top Baguette makes our favorite banh mi in Little Saigon. The tiny, order-at-the-counter shop isn’t doing anything extreme with their sandwiches, they’re just doing them extremely well. That means fresh toppings that perfectly pair with whichever protein you choose, plus crunchy French baguettes we wish we could take home in bulk. Our move is always the BBQ beef with lemongrass, but if you’re looking to change it up, try the tuna as well. Just make sure you add a fried egg on top.

Our Favorite Dishes: Garlic Crab, Pomelo Salad, Toothpick Lamb, Shaken Beef, Shrimp With Garlic Noodles

In an area full of restaurant royalty, Garlic & Chives is the hot young prince that everybody wants to hang out with. From the second you walk into the modern dining room, you can sense how different it is from the rest of Little Saigon. There’s Top 40 playing over the loudspeaker, the dining room is packed with first dates and groups of college kids, and the menu is full of non-traditional dishes that pull influences from all over Asia. But whether it’s the toothpick lamb, grapefruit-and-shrimp-filled pomelo salad, or wok-fried crab, Garlic & Chives’s food isn’t just different than the rest of Little Saigon, it’s also some of the best.

Our Favorite Dishes: Banh Cuon Thit Cha Nuong Ha Noi (Grilled Pork Patties With Steamed Rice Paper), Bun Thai Tom Yum Hai San (Tom Yum Soup)

As its name suggests, this Garden Grove restaurant specializes in Northern Vietnamese cuisine, and in particular, popular dishes from the city of Hanoi. That also means it’s pretty different than other restaurants in Little Saigon (the majority here specialize in Central Vietnamese dishes). While this is one of our favorite all-around menus in the neighborhood, the one dish you must order is the grilled pork patties with steamed rice paper. They’re sweet, savory, and immensely fragrant, and when wrapped around the steamed rice paper, they become one of our top-five favorite dishes in Little Saigon. Also, try their orange-broth tom yum soup, which is more pungent than regular tom yum, but just as delicious.

Our Favorite Dishes: Newport Special Lobster

Located in Santa Ana, Tan Cang is a classic seafood restaurant and home to the most epic dish in all of Little Saigon - the Newport Special Lobster. There are restaurants all over Orange County trying to imitate this dish, but Tan Cang is the originator (it’s been open since 1988) and the best. The gigantic platter of lobster comes spiced and sauced in a secret combination that they probably keep locked in an air-tight safe, but just know it’s going to be one of the best plates of seafood you’ve ever eaten. Ordering noodles underneath might seem like overkill, but it’s a good change of texture and the way the noodles soak up the sauce from the lobster is a borderline spiritual experience. Bring as many friends as you can.

Our Favorite Dishes: Pho Tai Filet Mignon

In a town with no shortage of standout pho spots, Pho 45 still manages to stand alone. The broth here is uniquely dark, savory, and meaty - without the immense fragrance you typically find in most pho - and that’s exactly why we like it. All their rare meats are of high quality, but if you aren’t asking for the filet mignon, you’re doing it wrong. On those arctic days when the thermometer dips below 65 degrees, you will find us here, hunched over a gigantic $9 bowl of delicious pho.

Our Favorite Dishes: Grilled Pork Banh Mi

We know we said that Top Baguette serves our favorite banh mi in Little Saigon, but we can have two favorites, right? Right. Lynda Sandwich is a tiny cafe located on the south side of Westminster with a festive interior that borders on the absurd. There are plants everywhere, stencil paintings of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, and an entire wall filled with headshots of Asian pop acts. There’s a lot going on, but the star of the show is still the grilled pork banh mi - perfectly cooked pork inside a crunchy baguette filled with lemongrass and jalapenos for some spice. It’s simple, fresh, and fantastic. And also only $4.50.

Our Favorite Dishes: Bo Kho (Beef Stew)

Le Croissant Doré is a French/Vietnamese bakery right on Bolsa, and while you can come here to pick up their excellent fruit tarts and chocolate croissants, the move is to take a seat and order a plate of bo kho. You can find this traditional Vietnamese beef stew at many places around Little Saigon, but this is our favorite. The broth is dark, meaty, and slightly cinnamon-y, and the beef itself essentially melts in your mouth. But perhaps the best part is ripping off bits of the crunchy, house-made baguette and sopping up all the extra broth.

Our Favorite Dishes: Banh Xeo (Savory Vietnamese Crepe)

This modern restaurant specializes in banh xeo, which are giant savory crepes made from turmeric-spiced rice batter and filled with everything from shrimp to pork to crispy mushrooms. While Quan Mii is the best version we’ve eaten in Little Saigon, the real fun comes when it all arrives at the table. After cutting the crepe into tiny pieces and spinning the tableside crispy rice paper in water until it’s soft and stretchy, you essentially create a build-your-own spring roll station right at your seat. Using the banh xeo as your filling, add in herbs and mint for fragrance and wrap it up tightly in the rice paper. If it’s your first time, it’ll take you a few tries to get the hang of it, but when the crepes are this big, you’ll get all the chances you need.

Our Favorite Dishes: Roast Duck, Soy Sauce Chicken

There are a few competing BBQ duck spots around Little Saigon, but Lien Hoa is our favorite. The cash-only spot is essentially a pick-up counter, so if you’re looking for a big-group dinner spot, Lien Hoa is not your place. That said, if you’re on your way home from work and aren’t in the mood to cook tonight, picking up a half duck or soy sauce chicken for later is a move we fully endorse. The duck itself is tender and slightly sweet, and the crispy skin provides the ideal amount of crunch. A full duck is only $20, and can easily be made into several meals.

Our Favorite Dishes: Hu Tieu Mi Trieu Chau Dac Biet (House Special Noodles)

Sharing a parking lot with Tan Cang Seafood, Trieu Chau is a Vietnamese/Cambodian restaurant that is constantly busy. It doesn’t matter if you show up at 10am or 5pm, there will be people waiting outside - and everyone’s here for the noodle soups. In particular, their House Special Noodle. It’s a steaming bowl of duck, shrimp, fish balls, and wontons all floating in a clear, umami-filled broth that we think about often during terrible work meetings. You get your choice of rice or egg noodles, but you should definitely ask for a combination of both.

Our Favorite Dishes: Oc Len Xao Dua (Curry Escargot), Lau Tom Hum (Lobster Hot Pot)

Escargot can be found on menus throughout Little Saigon, but at Oc & Lau, it’s the star of the show. There are 18 different varieties of escargot on the menu, but for us, the oc len xao dua - escargot in coconut curry - is the winner. It arrives to the table in a tiny black cauldron filled with swirly snails that you suck out of the shells, and a sweet-and-creamy curry broth that takes everything to the next level. It’s one of the best curries you’ll find in Little Saigon, and if they let us, we’d drink it out of a pint glass.

Our Favorite Dishes: Bun Tom Cha Gio Bo (Shrimp And Pork Vermicelli), Ca Kho To (Carmelized Catfish)

Open since 1979, Thanh My is another member of Little Saigon’s old guard, and though its food might not be the most groundbreaking in the neighborhood, there’s a reason this Westminster institution has been around for 40 years - the food is delicious. The encyclopedic menu has everything from corkscrew snails to chicken curry to rice porridge, but we tend to focus on the bun tom cha gio bo. It’s a giant bowl of soft vermicelli noodles, topped with perfectly cooked shrimp and pork, and served with a crispy spring roll. If you’re stopping in for a quick solo lunch, this is a must-order, but if you’re with a big group, go for the family meals towards the back of the menu. We’ve witnessed at-table fights over who gets the last bite of ca kho to, the caramelized catfish served in a hot pot.

Our Favorite Dishes: Xiu Mai (Meatball) Banh Mi, Vietnamese Coffee, Banh Cuon (Rice Paper With Various Toppings)

THH has locations all over Orange County, but this order-at-the-counter sandwich shop is a Little Saigon staple, and the perfect place to go for a fast lunch. All their sandwiches are good, but the xiu mai is our usual go-to. The meatballs themselves are well-made, but it’s the way the auxiliary juice soaks into the crunchy baguette that puts the whole thing over the top for us. Also, the Westminster location is only a few blocks off the 405, making it an excellent spot to pick up some pre-packed banh cuon (rice sheets with assorted sides) and our favorite Vietnamese coffee in town before heading to the beach for the day.

Our Favorite Dishes: Spicy Bon Bo Hue (Vermicelli Noodle Soup)

On days when the line is just too long at the pho spots, head to Ngu Binh and get your noodle-soup fix there instead. This quiet strip mall spot has a small menu by Little Saigon standards (only 20 items total), and while there are several soups we like, go for the spicy bon bo Hue. Named after the central Vietnamese city of Hue, this dense, rich soup is made from simmering beef bones and shrimp paste for several hours, then topping it with chili oil, sliced brisket, crab balls, and congealed pig’s blood. There’s a lot going here, but these are the kind of flavors that’ll punch you in the face and still leave you asking for more.

Our Favorite Dishes: Banh Beo (Steamed Rice Cakes), Mi Quang (Yellow Noodle Soup)

Quan Hy looks like an upscale restaurant - you take a tiny wooden bridge over a koi pond to enter the dining room - but it’s actually quite casual. And the rowdy groups of friends eating their way through Quan Hy’s central Vietnamese menu will tell you that. Whether it’s mi quang (yellow noodle soup with shrimp and jellyfish) or bun mit (rice vermicelli with jackfruit), the food here is across-the-board good, and that means you should definitely show up with numbers. But if you leave without getting an order of their tremendous banh beo (steamed rice cakes with shredded shrimp on top), don’t bother telling anyone you even came.

Our Favorite Dishes: Che (Coconut Milk Dessert Drink)

Thach Che Hien Khanh is a tiny, dimly lit dessert shop where everyone in Little Saigon goes to satisfy their post-dinner sweet-tooth. It’s cash only and there’s no printed menu to speak of, but you’re going to want one of their ché beverages (a coconut milk-based dessert drink filled with everything from boba to pom seed jelly to mung bean). It’s incredibly refreshing, a textural jigsaw puzzle, and exactly what you want after a big meal.

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photo credit: Jakob Layman

The Best Restaurants In Little Saigon guide image