Sunset, Melrose, Hollywood, Rodeo, and Santa Monica. This city hardly lacks in famous streets. With a public transportation system still figuring its way out of 1962, our boulevards are legitimate physical and cultural arteries. Some are just more important than others.
La Brea has long struggled to find its identity, seen by most people as a boundary line between Central LA yuppiness and East LA grunge. Or simply the fastest way to get to the 10 Freeway. But before this review dissolves into an unneeded sketch of The Californians, we’ll say this: La Brea was in need of a makeover and it’s getting one.
By way of Sawtelle’s buzzing Japantown, Nong La threw its hat into the La Brea revitalization ring and opened up in an old furniture showcase room, bringing legitimate Vietnamese food to an area utterly devoid of it. People flock to Nong La for its braised pork belly banh mi, but it’s also built a reputation on having a wildly affordable menu in a modern, welcoming atmosphere.
On top of that, there’s the quality of service. The attentive wait staff is happy to give you insider tips to best maximize your order and that’s the telltale sign of servers who love the food they serve. The space is flexible, allowing you to ease up to the bar for a quick solo lunch or sit down for a casual date on their leafy front patio. Our only true lament about Nong La is that they are closed on Sundays. The one night of the week built solely for eating pho from inside your blanket tent on the couch. PLEASE FIX NOW.
But above all that, we’re just happy you’re here Nong La and we know La Brea thanks you too.
The Pho section will easily grab your attention, but don’t let it. Head right down to the Specialty Soups where you will find this Nong La treasure. Don’t be fooled, this is still noodle soup. But with its hefty lemongrass broth, it provides a major kick that their regular Pho doesn’t accomplish.
Banh mis are all over the place, but this version right here deserves to be mentioned in the top tier. It starts with perfect pork belly but ends with the fried egg, house-made mayo and perfectly crisp baguette. Amen.
Translation: noodle salad topped with pork and an extra egg roll because this is America. If you’re worried about being underwhelmed by a noodle salad, do not worry. This is massive portion of those delicious cold vermicelli noodles, providing perhaps the best showcase for that amazing pork that exists at Nong La.
Spring rolls are the chicken wings of Vietnamese cuisine: usually good but rarely ever great. But Nong La’s version is teetering on the latter. This enormous portion is jam packed with shrimp and pork and served alongside their house peanut sauce. Trust us now, you won’t waste a drop of that peanut sauce.
It’s not that this “rice” dish isn’t good. It’s just that it’s more of a showcase for Nong La’s great protein offerings. But those great proteins are better utilized in their soups, noodles and salads. Not here.