In Orange County’s Little Saigon, there is a tight list of restaurant royalty. These are the spots that have been serving the same iconic dishes for decades and are viewed as founding pillars of the community. Their importance cannot be overstated. But when a community is built upon a rich cultural heritage - and long-standing recipes - it can be difficult to find places that are changing things up. That’s where Garlic & Chives comes in.
The modern Vietnamese restaurant is not only serving some of the most objectively interesting food in the neighborhood, they’re also serving some of the most delicious. And that makes it new royalty in our book.
Garlic & Chives has actually been open since 2014, so it’s hardly some new rebel in town. That said, walking into its bright, festive dining room, you’ll feel like you’re at a restaurant that opened five months ago, not five years ago. There are first dates happening in the corner, big groups of friends ordering everything until they run out of table space, and college kids who successfully convinced their parents to try something new tonight. There’s a youthful energy here that you can’t really find in Little Saigon restaurants, and as soon as you open up the menu, you’ll realize its source - the food.
It takes one glance at the expansive menu to realize that, though this is Vietnamese food, there’s influences from all over Asia. You’ll eat pomelo salad, a citrus-and-shrimp-filled dish that’s typically found in Thai cuisine, Sichuan-style toothpick lamb we’d put up against the best in San Gabriel Valley, and a plate of shaken beef that left us, well, shaking.
While we’re certainly fans of having options, wide-ranging menus often lead to meals that feel disconnected - but not at Garlic & Chives. Every dish here feels intertwined and purposeful, whether it’s deep-fried salmon belly with an addictive house dipping sauce or a giant crab roasted with enough garlic to ward off a lifetime of vampires. When dishes have the intense, complex flavors as they do here, nothing feels out of place, or added simply to compete with every other restaurant in town. If it’s on the menu at here, it’s meant to be ordered.
Honoring tradition is important, and Little Saigon will always be a neighborhood rooted in its long-standing restaurant royalty - but there’s something to be said about the tradition of creating your own legacy, too. And Garlic & Chives proves it’s important to keep some extra room open on the throne.
This is one of those salads you eat and immediately wonder why other salads taste so bad. A mix of pomelo (similar to grapefruit), shrimp, pork, banana blossom, mint, and peanuts, this is one of the most refreshing and complex salads we’ve ever eaten. Make this the first thing that hits your table.
Deep-Fried Salmon Belly
This isn’t going to be a dish that immediately jumps off the menu, but you should definitely order it. It’s great to share with a group, and the garlic batter it’s fried in lays the groundwork for what’s going to be a very garlic-heavy meal.
Yes, this dish swaps out traditional Sichuan peppercorn for garlic, and no, that doesn’t make it any less memorable. Also, sometimes it’s nice not having your mouth go completely numb for the remainder of the meal.
Mi Toi Tom Xu Nuong (Charboiled Black Tiger Shrimp)
There is absolutely nothing complex about this dish - and that’s exactly why we love it so much. It’s just perfectly grilled shrimp on top of soft garlic noodles, tossed with garlic butter. It’s the ideal comfort food and the type of dish we want fed to us by a Grecian pool attendant while watching Netflix.
Roasted Garlic Crab
This is the house specialty and what most people come to Garlic & Chives to eat. While the crab meat itself is absolutely excellent, it’s important to note that this is a very big dish - and one that usually tops out above $50 depending on market price. If you’re by yourself or on a date and looking to try other things, we’d postpone ordering this until you’re back with a big group.
Shaken beef is an objectively simple dish, and for that reason alone, it’s not always the most exciting thing to order. But order it anyway. The marinated filet mignon is so well-cooked it requires almost zero chewing and the whole garlic it comes with isn’t nearly as overpowering as it sounds.