Category Archives: Vietnamese

Sinoinsocal? But You’re in NorCal…

Whenever I talk to someone about this blog, sometimes I’m asked why it’s called sinoinsocal. I mean, sure, I am Chinese but I certainly don’t live in Southern California. So what gives with this sort-of odd name?

Well let’s back track all the way back to 2011, a year and a half before I published my first post. As some of my readers know (and as it is outlined on my “about” page), my blog is dedicated in honor of my mom and it was in the fall of 2011 that my mom had a couple of severe strokes that precipitated to her passing in 2012. Because of her strokes, I immediately moved from Baltimore back to Southern California.

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

Pho Ga at Pho Nguyen Hue

More specifically, I moved back to Irvine, where I graduated from college a couple years prior. It was during my time in college that I ate around Orange County amazingly diverse and large Asian communities. Whether it was some of the best pho I’ve ever had in Little Saigon or the most delicious bowls of beef noodle soup in Irvine’s various Taiwanese restaurants, eating Asian food in Orange County was such a delight.

But of course, most people’s vision of Orange County is something akin to what they have seen in the hit mid-2000s show “The OC” or the original version of The Real Housewives series set in the gated community of Coto de Caza. That is to say, the popular image is of rich white people with sun kissed skin, money for everything they want, and lots of time spent frolicking on the beach or shopping at high end malls. And while this kind of life is definitely representative of parts of Orange County, it’s really just a small portion of what, in reality, is one of the most diverse counties in the United States.

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Dim sum at J Zhou Oriental Cuisine

Orange County is home of the largest Vietnamese community in the United States with nearly 190,000 Vietnamese residents and strip mall after strip mall on streets like Bolsa and Brookhurst are filled with great specialists of specific Vietnamese dishes. Right next door is Garden Grove, with a large Korean community and some of the best Korean BBQ in Southern California. And just 15-20 minutes down the 405 or 5 (without traffic) is Irvine, where a huge Taiwanese community means there are multiple great places to get everything from Taiwanese fried chicken cutlets to bowls of lu rou fan. This doesn’t even include the large Persian and Latino communities in the county too.

So when I moved back to Southern California in the fall of 2011 to be closer to my mom, I wanted to showcase another side of Orange County, one filled with bowls of tasty pho instead of fake tans. Unfortunately, an opportunity to work a campaign for a now wonderful Congresswoman (and one of my best bosses ever) and my mom’s cardiac arrest and eventual passing meant I wouldn’t write a blog post until I lived in Denver.

Though with all those twists and turns (and 2 more moves later), I still think that more people should know about the wonderful Asian food that dots Orange County. Thankfully, a few other food writers with a more national audience has done that too. So before you head to Disneyland on your next trip, be sure to check out David Chan’s article and guide to Chinese food in Irvine or the Orange County Register’s guide to Little Saigon.

And if you want to know what are some of my favorite places in Orange County, here are a few below:

  • Broddard Restaurant – Great Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon
  • Cham Sut Gol – Wonderful Korean BBQ in Garden Grove
  • J Zhou Oriental Cuisine – The best dim sum in Orange County, almost rivaling those in the San Gabriel Valley
  • Pho Nguyen Hue – Some of the best chicken pho I’ve ever had
  • Yu’s Kitchen – Solid Taiwanese fair in Irvine
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Cleveland, OH

Los Angeles. San Francisco. New York City. Those are the places most people think of as the cities to go to for good Asian food in America. Cleveland, Ohio, would likely not be on anyone’s mind. Despite its relatively bland and uninspiring reputation, I felt compelled to try the Asian food in the city during my brief time there last weekend to witness the marriage of two wonderful friends. This was reinforced when, much to my surprise, Cleveland had a couple restaurants that scored fairly well in the Dim Sum Rankings I compiled last year. Sadly, I didn’t get enough time to eat at all the restaurants I wanted to go to, but here are thoughts on the two that I did manage to squeeze in with my 36 hours in town.

Saigon
2061 E 4th Street
Cleveland, OH 44115

On Thursday I arrived in Cleveland shortly before game 4 of the NBA finals. After I dropped my bag off at the place I was staying, I decided to wander and explore downtown Cleveland a little bit. Unbeknownst to me, the Quicken Loans Arena where the Cleveland Cavaliers play is right next to downtown, so nearly all the streets were packed and my cell phone data became non-existent. I panicked a little as I was essentially flying blind on where to eat, without access to Yelp, Chowhound, or the travel recommendations of my friends. So as I turned into the pedestrian mall of East 4th Street, I was anxious. However, I saw the sign for Saigon and vaguely remembered that it was on my friends’ travel recommendations for the wedding. I breathed a little easier and went in to grab a table.

I sat down and browsed the menu, which was a little smaller than the pan-Vietnamese menus I was used to. I did, however, notice that the menu had both southern and central Vietnamese dishes so I proceeded to ask the server what they thought was best. Given the recommendation, I order the Bún bò Huế and then some crispy spring rolls (or what most Americans would refer to as egg rolls). My thoughts on them below:

Bun bo Hue at Saigon

Bun bo Hue at Saigon

  • Bún bò Huế – While this version doesn’t have oxtail or pork knuckle, this is possibly the best version of this dish I’ve had without either item. Most attempts with just beef shank are too thin and water/brothy but this version had a very nice slight thickness and had a decent amount of lemongrass and shrimp paste. They did add other cuts of beef like beef meatballs to make up for the lack of oxtail. I was almost tempted to order another bowl.
Chả giò at Saigon

Chả giò at Saigon

  • Chả giò (crispy spring rolls) – These fried spring rolls were fried perfectly, though I felt they had slightly too much pork. That, in and of itself is, not a bad thing. I just wish it had a little more glass noodles, carrots, and seasoning to balance it out. It paired very well with the excellent fish sauce though.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Saigon. There are even Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area that would be negatively compared to this delightful place in the middle of downtown Cleveland. I can see why my friends like this place.

Emperor’s Palace
2136 Rockwell Ave
Cleveland, OH 44114

Given that I had no obligations for lunch on Friday, I decided to eat some dim sum. I chose Emperor’s Palace because it placed ever so slightly above the more popular Li Wah in my dim sum rankings and I only had one lunch meal in town. So the next morning, after I had laundered and pressed my clothes for the wedding later that day, I drove over to Emperor’s Palace in Cleveland’s old Chinatown.

Entering the restaurant I sat down at one of their many open tables. Normally the relative lack of people at the restaurant would worry people, but the few other tables occupied were of Chinese families and friends talking loudly in Cantonese, greatly relieving me. I browsed the menu and ordered the following:

Dim Sum at Emperor's Palace

Dim Sum at Emperor’s Palace

  • Emperor’s Steam Shrimp Dumpling – I give credit to Emperor’s Palace that they make their dim sum from scratch using fresh (as possible) shrimp. While the skin was a little bit too thick, the shrimp filling was nice, especially given that many dim sum places outside large coastal metro areas tend to use freezer burnt frozen shrimp.
  • Turnip Cake – These also showed signs of being made from scratch with nice bits of shredded and mashed daikon. The texture could have been more refined, but it was grilled fairly nicely with a crispy exterior but soft interior.
  • Egg Custard Bun – These buns were petite but really nice. The custard was sweet but not overpowering and the buns were nice and fluffy instead of oversteamed and soggy as some other restaurants might do.
  • Sao Mai – These were by far the worst item I had. Why they did try hard with a handmade pork filling and light wonton wrappers, I felt that these were oversteamed. The pork tasted a little overcooked and chewy while the wonton wrapper fell apart and tasted sticky. At least they didn’t just reheat some frozen aisle sui mai though, which I definitely can’t say of some other places.

All in all it was definitely better than many dim sum restaurants outside of the big 3 of LA, San Francisco, and NYC. After swinging by Li Wah right after just to check it out, I do wish I had gone there instead, though it’s great to know Cleveland residents are not left wanting, with two good choices for dim sum.

I just wished I had more time in Cleveland because I felt that 36 hours was definitely not enough time to even explore the Asian food options of the area, which showed tremendous signs of promise just from these two restaurants. I’d even argue that Cleveland has a better Asian food scene than Philadelphia, even though Philly has a still thriving Chinatown. I suppose it just means I have another excuse to do a Midwestern road trip, not only to see some friends, but to eat some great food.

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