Pho-nomenal Flavors

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bao and tofu bites_credit Ashley Ryan
Crazy Rich Bao (front) with pork belly and fried tofu bites | Photo by Ashley Ryan

Saigon Beach serves up Vietnamese dishes that delight.

By Sharon Stello

 

From pho noodle soup to banh mi sandwiches and beyond, Saigon Beach does Vietnamese cuisine right. Starting with homestyle flavors and then updating and elevating them, the new restaurant—which opened in May and also has a location in Newport Beach—is sure to have many repeat customers.

Located on South Coast Highway, the eatery offers both indoor and patio seating. And (a major plus) there are parking spots reserved for Saigon Beach customers in the adjacent lot. Once inside the casual space, guests order at the counter and then grab any open table. Select items from the all-day menu or, from 4-9 p.m., an evening lineup of dishes is also available. A refreshing array of drinks ranges from cucumber-mint, strawberry-peach and passion fruit-mango limonades to Thai or green Thai iced tea and Vietnamese iced coffee, plus beer and wine.

Creative dish names make ordering fun: Start with the Crazy Rich Bao, choosing pork belly, beef brisket, grilled turmeric chicken or other options tucked into the pillowy fold of a steamed bao bun along with mayo, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro and pickled carrots and jicama. Share a plate of two bao or enjoy as a filling meal for yourself.

spring rolls and limonades_credit Ashley Ryan
Shrimp and avocado spring rolls with peanut sauce, strawberry-peach and cucumber-mint limonades | Photo by Ashley Ryan

Or try the fresh spring rolls with choice of protein (we like the shrimp and avocado), as well as vermicelli noodles, cilantro, lettuce and pickled carrots and jicama, all wrapped in rice paper and served with a sweet-and-salty peanut sauce for dipping. The sauce itself doesn’t contain nuts, so those with allergies may request it without nuts sprinkled on top. In fact, there are plenty of ways to customize a meal with vegetarian options from tofu and mushrooms to shredded jackfruit offered in place of meat fillings for many dishes.

In the evening, diners may also nosh on small plates like crispy pork belly lollipops or fried tofu bites, cubes of tofu that are tossed in a house sauce, drizzled with chile oil and sprinkled with fried shallots, scallions and peanuts; the crisp exterior gives way to a softer center for a satisfying appetizer.

Of course, no Vietnamese restaurant would be complete without a banh mi sandwich or pho, a noodle soup with rich broth and your choice of filet mignon, brisket, chicken, shrimp or tofu and mushrooms. But, perhaps the best choice is bringing them together with a cup of pho broth in which to dip your sandwich.

For another filling and savory dinner, order the Golden State Curry, a rich blend of tomato, ginger and curry with coconut milk and chile oil, served on a bed of jasmine rice and topped with braised chicken thigh, stewed beef, charred prawns or seared tofu steak. This is one delicious dish that you’ll want to keep eating.

curry_credit Ashley Ryan
Golden State Curry with chicken | Photo by Ashley Ryan

Chef Velvet Lam explains that the Saigon Beach menu is inspired by homestyle dishes that her friends and families eat, but adapted with others in mind to appeal to a broad range of palates. As she says, curry isn’t a traditional Vietnamese dish, but if you stay at a Vietnamese family’s house long enough, they will eventually serve curry.

Some menu items will change seasonally, so look for stew or lemon grass soups in late fall or winter. After these hearty, flavorful dishes, the Coco for Pandan panna cotta is a refreshing way to end the meal. Created by another chef, Hen Nguyen, the dessert is a creamy custard flavored with coconut and mild pandan leaf, all topped with flambeed pineapple chunks for a light yet tempting treat that will make you feel as if you’ve been whisked away to a tropical destination.

Saigon Beach

1750 S. Coast Highway
657-392-4424; saigonbeach.com

Hours
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and
4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

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