Hell’s Kitchen may not be the typical neighborhood to head to for Vietnamese food in New York. Granted, I don’t know where the typical neighborhood for such food might be, but my coworkers thought I was crazy to head that way. Once again, though, I put my faith in my brother-in-law and his wife and found myself at Cha Pa’s looking at a vast menu with a ton of delicious-looking options. I began with a Tiger Beer.
Not too long ago, Vietnamese food suddenly became cool. At first everyone was probably like, “What the shit are pho and banh mi and how do you pronounce these things?” but now they’re all like, “It’s pronounced ‘fuh,’ idiot.” Somewhere in the middle of all this, Good Girl Dinette appeared in the formerly sketchy turned contentiously gentrifying neighborhood of Highland Park. Yes, just like every other damn city, LA has a Highland Park of its own.
What do you call a restaurant called Abricott? Do you pronounce it like apricot? Do you slow it down and enunciate everything? Or do you just refer to it as “that Asian place down on Lake”? I prefer the latter option, because at the end of the day that’s really what it is. Abricott is loaded with a variety of different Asian offerings, like Korean, Chinese, Thai, and all that jazz. On this day, though, it was the Thai that struck me.
After crossing the border back into the good old USA from Canada, it was time to visit a border-crossing restaurant – namely Saigon Bangkok (the borders being Vietnam and Thailand, which of course don’t even border each other). Where many Asian restaurants purport to be one thing while offering additional options, Saigon Bangkok unabashedly offers multiple options and keeps them limited to just that. While I’m a fan of both cuisines, in this case I concentrated all my efforts on Thai.
One might think that pho would be a little too “wintry” of a food for the springtime. But in Pittsburgh, that is certainly not the case. So when, on a chilly spring evening we were invited to try out a supposedly delicious Vietnamese pho spot in Bloomfield, we couldn’t say no. Called Tram’s Kitchen, the menu featured more than just pho, but we were there for one reason only (okay maybe two if you count spring rolls).
In the hotbed of food culture known as Palm Desert, California, we went off to dinner with my aunt and uncle, who were craving some Thai food. After some extensive searching using the newfangled interwebs, we found a place called Le Basil. Rather than being confined to Thai food, Le Basil expanded to another area of Southeast Asia and integrated Vietnamese food into their menu. Although this only covered 2 of the 11 sovereign nations of Southeast Asia, it was enough for Le Basil’s menu to claim Southeast Asian cuisine (come on, where’s the balut?).
Recently a little pho place opened down the street from me and called itself Super Pho & Teriyaki. Anything that starts with super must be pretty cool, so I took a stroll down the road with my friend so we could get ourselves a taste. The place is pretty tiny and nondescript, but had enough tables open for us. We ordered at the counter and I decided to get their House Pho. This included meat balls, brisket, tendon and tripe. A few more organs and I would have had enough to build a whole cow from scratch in my stomach.
Having been to Vietnam, I found it very strange that when I moved to LA, everyone considered pho THE Vietnamese food. I hadn’t even heard of pho before and certainly don’t remember encountering it anywhere in Vietnam. Nonetheless, I decided it was about time I found myself some pho. Just my luck, a new place had recently opened in my neighborhood, called Pho Show. I found it strange that anyone would choose to name their pho shop this way, as all pho connoisseurs know that the word is pronounced “fuh” rather than “foe.” Nonetheless, I went to Pho Show to see what it was all about.
A little more than eight months after my first taste of Kogi BBQ, I found myself once again standing in the parking lot of The Brig, eager to take on another food truck inspired by the fusion of Asian and Mexican food. If so much hadn’t changed in the food truck scene of LA since that first taste of Kogi, I would have felt some intense deja vu. Since the arrival of Kogi, it feels like a new food truck is unrolled every week. From the architecturally inspired ice cream sandwiches of Coolhaus to the beautiful women running Baby’s Badass Burger truck, I almost feel like LA offers more food on wheels than it does in restaurants, with more coming. Nonetheless, the official opening of the Vietnamese and Mexican fusion Nom Nom Truck was exciting for me, and I made my way to The Brig in Venice to see if I would have a new friend on wheels.