Golden Deli Holds Court in San Gabriel Valley


Jonathan Gold knows a thing or two about Southern California food. (He no longer is with us, though his legacy and influence remain.) The Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer once named Golden Deli one of L.A. area’s 99 essential restaurants. 

Located in a strip mall in the food mecca of San Gabriel Valley (SGV), doing business since 1981, it routinely draws legions of ardent customers who are willing to wait for a half hour or more to get seated. I’ve eaten here several times when visiting relatives nearby. 

Though the menu is substantial (intimidating actually), Golden Deli is popular for its pho. The broth is well-balanced and soup noodly, by which I mean that Golden Deli is very generous with the rice noodles. If the soup isn’t eaten fast enough, the pasta will soften and swell to fill up the bowl. A solid pho. 

On warmer days especially, bun calls out to me, a salad of cold rice noodles, plenty of lettuce and bean sprouts, herbs, nuoc cham dressing and choice of topping. GD makes one of the better bun thit nuong (charbroiled pork). Instead of more common do chua, pickled scallions provide the familiar vinegary-sweet accent. And praise to the kitchen for scattering fried shallots on top. I can’t have enough of the stuff. 

Bo kho (beef stew) is another Vietnamese specialty, similar to French pot au feu but with Vietnamese flavors, served with either banh mi bread on the side or ladled on rice noodles, take your pick. Five-spice, tomatoes, curry powder and lemongrass are the usual broth ingredients. The broth made at Golden Deli is intensely reddish-orange in color, likely from annatto, and thinner than some but complex and delicious. The beef is meltingly tender, accompanied on a recent visit by a single carrot. More would’ve been nice. 

Customers sing praises of their cha gio, otherwise simply referred to as egg rolls. It’s a superlative version, savory and bigger than most versions, an umami bomb of ground pork and woodear mushrooms. These are not delicate, bite-sized pieces either, but bigger than cigars. Oily on the surface, their fried rice paper skins are shatteringly crispy if not aesthetically pleasing. Fresh lettuce and herbs come on the side: mint, cilantro, perilla leaves, bean sprouts, sliced cucumbers. Eaten by itself or wrapped in lettuce with herbs and dipped in nuoc cham, Golden Deli’s cha gio is impressive. 

Cha gio (image on Yelp by Jeff T.)

The general consensus is that Banh Mi My Tho rules in the 626 area code for their namesake sandwiches. Lost in its encyclopedic menu is Golden Deli’s own that if for no other reason than its perfect bread surely should be regarded as royalty in this highly competitive market. It’s the kind of bread that’s supple on the inside and so crackly on the outside that shards rain down on the table and clothes with every bite.

Pork banh mi

While one can argue that this place or that in SGV serves a better such-and-such, for sheer variety and quality, Golden Deli continues to hold court.

Golden Deli
815 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626.308.0803

Advertisements

Bánh Khọt and Bánh Xèo at Hà Tiên Quán Restaurant (San Gabriel, CA)


While in San Jose (CA) at a Vietnamese restaurant, friends KirkJ and his wife ordered and loved a specialty that I had never heard of—bánh khọt, that he points out is difficult to find in the Seattle area. It’s apparently equally scarce elsewhere, not as common as its cousin, bánh xèo, whose batter is made from the same ingredients of rice flour and coconut milk. Rather than the omelet-like presentation of the latter, bánh khọt seem like little tartlets, grilled in special cast iron pans that look like Japanese takoyaki or Danish ebelskiver pans. The cakes are a little more than 2 inches across and are topped with some sort of savory filling, usually fresh shrimp or chopped or ground dried shrimp. Bánh khọt are traditionally eaten as breakfast or snack in Vietnam, and by wrapping a lettuce leaf and herbs around them before dipping them in nước chấm. The ideal examples are crispy on the bottoms and edges, but soft in the center. Sometimes, a dollop of coconut cream is spooned or drizzled on top.

Bánh khọt and bánh xeo are wrapped with lettuce leaves and herbs, dipped in nuoc cham

Banh khot and banh xeo are wrapped with lettuce leaves and herbs, dipped in nuoc cham

As my wife and I were on our last full day away from home, what better opportunity to try finding bánh khọt than in the San Gabriel Valley, home to many Vietnamese restaurants. A quick internet search turned up Hà Tiên Quán in San Gabriel, apparently the only restaurant that makes them in the valley. A few restaurants in Orange County have them as well.

Even if three of us came for a specific reason, looking over the menu was treading in unfamiliar territory. Some of the standard repertoire of Vietnamese dishes are here, but most of it, written only in Vietnamese and its romanized alphabet, is probably unrecognizable to those unacquainted with the cuisine in and around Hà Tiên in western Vietnam, where the family who owns the restaurant is from.

Bánh khọt and bánh xèo were pictured on the menu right next to each other. We decided to try both. Almost as an afterthought, we also asked for two types of fried spring rolls: chả gìo ré and chả gìo thường.

The presentation of the bánh khọt (☆☆) was striking, cups of yellow shells with an orange filling of what I imagine was ground shrimp. It was hard to tell since I detected no shrimp taste, let alone taste of any kind. In fact, turmeric’s earthy quality dominated. These were not the crisped shells that I was hoping for either, just rice flour’s unmistakable chewiness. I have to say though that the  shells were admirably thin.

Banh khot

Banh khot

Equally disappointing was the bánh xèo (☆☆) that was filled with a mountain of bean sprouts, too much for my liking, and so few shrimp that we all asked, “Where’s the shrimp?” That was it, nothing else. The crepe was also coated with a glistening layer of frying oil. As with the bánh khọt, turmeric broadcast its color and flavor. This dish does not hold a candle to the bánh xèo at Greenleaf in my neck of the woods.

Banh xeo

Banh xeo

In both cases, nước chấm provided needed zip to otherwise bland entrées.

It was fortunate that we added fried spring rolls to our order at the last minute, or the whole meal would’ve been a disappointment. The menu showed four kinds. With no English translation, we asked the waiter what the differences were. What we heard was though the filling was the same (ground pork mainly), the wrappings were different, which the waiter said he couldn’t explain well enough. Chả gìo thường (☆☆½) is the more familiar spring roll wrapped in wheat flour skin, which makes for a very crackly crunch. The revelation was chả gìo ré (☆☆☆) because the wrapping can be an incredibly lacy rice flour netting that is time-consuming to make and therefore uncommon. HTQ may have used a vermicelli noodle shortcut instead. As the waiter said, the filling was made with pork.

Cha gio thuong

Cha gio thuong

Cha gio re

Cha gio re

It might be a better idea to return here for their regional dishes.

Hà Tiên Quán Restaurant
529 E Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626.288.1896
(Cash only)

Birthday Dinner at Monsoon East


Celebrating our birthdays at Monsoon East may be becoming a tradition. Granted, two years in a row hardly qualifies as an annual observance, but truthfully we couldn’t think of any better special place to be that was within a short driving distance of home. Along the two-block distance on Main Street in Old Bellevue can be found a surprising number of good places to eat, which include not only Monsoon East but La Cocina del Puerco, Belle Pastry, Ginza, Bis on Main and Cantinetta, the last to which we’ve never been.

First came the small plates. Dungeness Crab Rolls delighted us with their crispiness (deep-fried and sliced diagonally) and filling of crab, shrimp and rice vermicelli. These chả giò were delicious by themselves, even without nuoc cham. You could choose to wrap these in green-leaf lettuce leaves, garnished with extra rice noodles and Thai basil, before dipping. A tad greasy, the fried rolls were extraordinarily good (☆☆☆½).

Crispy Dungeness Crab Rolls

Crispy Dungeness Crab Rolls

Remembering how good it was last year, we requested Claypot Manila Clams again. To be sure, the clams were tender, but the sauce was an absolute killer, da bomb. Made from tomato purée and other secret ingredients, it was thick, bright, savory, buttery and a little spicy from sliced jalapeños. Even after polishing off roughly a dozen small clams and using their shells to scoop up the broth, there still was more sauce left behind. It would have been a crime against nature to let this go to waste without slathering it on rice, so we declined the waiter’s offer to remove the vessel. This is an astonishingly good entrée (☆☆☆☆), one we’re likely to order time and again.

Clay Pot Manila Clams

Clay Pot Manila Clams

Next came the rest of the meal. There was the steamed jasmine rice, of course, to mate with the clam sauce. Mustard greens are not normally associated in the West with Vietnamese cuisine, but  Chinese mustard greens are very popular in Asia. At Monsoon, they’re sautéed with roasted shiitake mushrooms and slivers of ginger in a savory sauce (☆☆☆).

Mustard Greens and Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

Mustard Greens and Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

Veal Luc Lac is a variation of the more common bo luc lac which is prepared by searing marinated beef cubes in a pan and shaking the pan (luc lac) back and forth until done. One could not ask for more tender meat than Monsoon’s veal version, tasting of oyster sauce, fish sauce and garlic. The red onions were nearly caramelized to heighten their sweetness. The whole dish is seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper that added pungency and floral taste. A small dish of a bracing dipping sauce made with lime juice, kosher salt and pepper sealed the deal on yet another outstanding though pricey dish (☆☆☆☆), accompanied by a salad of watercress and cherry tomatoes, dressed in a refreshing lime vinaigrette.

Luc Lac Veal with Seasonal Greens

Luc Lac Veal with Seasonal Greens

We’ve come to regard Monsoon East as one of the best Asian restaurants on the Eastside. At their upscale prices, it is not a place we’d go to often or on the spur of the moment, but certainly when our birthdays roll around again next December, we’d be hard pressed to think of a better place.

Related posts

Monsoon East
10245 Main St.
Bellevue, WA 98004
425.635.1112