5i Indochine Cuisine – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

We are proud to live in our beloved City of Angels, surrounded by amazing food from cuisines the world over. But despite the many ethnic enclaves that make up the Westside, it is darn near impossible to find good Vietnamese food here. Martin hails from the San Gabriel Valley and I was born and raised in Orange County, so those 24-hour pho restaurants with kitschy names just don’t do it for us. That is, until we found 5i. At first glance, the menu seemed a bit scattered with Singaporean noodles, har gow and shu mai dim sum dumplings, and pad thai. But after paging through, we noticed that the bulk of the menu was made of familiar dishes that encompass more than just the infamous beef noodle soup that everyone thinks of. For example…

Tau Hu Ky (Crispy Shrimp Patty)

Tau Hu Ky (Crispy Shrimp Patty)

SO GOOD. More on this later. 5i Indochine Cuisine just opened earlier this year. The restaurant is a tiny hole in the wall nestled in a Culver City strip mall, right between a karaoke bar and a dive bar. Fear not — once you slide into a parking space and navigate around the unsavory characters loitering about, entering 5i is like stepping into another world. A trendy-looking, IKEA-decorated world.

The Decor

The Decor

Our server quickly seated us and brought us the menus. While perusing our options, we overheard that they were giving a discount to the police officers sitting next to us as a small token of appreciation for the work they do. I thought it was a nice gesture. The expectations continued to rise when she came over to check in on us and discovered that we could communicate in Vietnamese. That definitely swayed me toward the Bún / Cơm (vermicelli rice noodles and rice plates, respectively) pages of the menu.

Plate of Herbs for Pho

Plate of Herbs for Pho

Martin had a huge craving for phở so he decided to go with that. Sadly, his favorite type of meat, the tripe (sách), was not available (it is on the menu but it seems they had run out that day). Instead, he selected the phở tái with rare slices of beef. First, of course, comes the plate of herbs — rau quê (Thai basil), bean sprouts, lime wedges, and jalapeno slices.

Pho Tai (beef noodle soup with rare steak slices)

Pho Tai (beef noodle soup with rare steak slices)

Despite the initial disappointment at the lack of tripe, Martin seemed to enjoy his steaming bowl of pho. The broth was actually pretty impressive in its fragrance and flavor. Not quite Pho 79, but definitely better than the others I’ve had in LA. Lots of beefy flavor, the aroma of star anise and charred onion, and plenty of fresh scallions and white onion. I would go into the nitty gritty details, but I only got one bite and a few sips of broth.

Charbroiled Pork with Vermicelli (Bún Thit Nướng)

Charbroiled Pork with Vermicelli (Bún Thit Nướng)

I am usually a fiend for noodle soup, but I could not pass up the opportunity for a big bowl of vermicelli so I got the bun thit nuong. Rice noodles, chopped lettuce, cucumber strips, and fresh bean sprouts form a refreshing bed for the hot-off-the-grill (or flat-top?) slices of juicy, smoky pork. Pour on the fish sauce and dig in. It’s like a warm salad, in the very best way imaginable. One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, especially in the summertime… or this unusually warm winter.

Crispy Shrimp Patty (Tau Hu Ky)

Crispy Shrimp Patty (Tau Hu Ky)

I had a feeling I would be satisfied with my bowl of bún, but as I was closing up the menu, my eyes took notice of an item on the appetizers list. Crispy shrimp patty — ground shrimp patty wrapped in a crispy tofu skin. Wait… isn’t that tau hu ky (tàu hũ ky)? I had to ask our server but she confirmed my suspicion. It’s one of my all-time favorite add-ons for cold Vietnamese dishes, so I ordered a plate of these as well. These were hot hot hot, fresh from the fryer, and the layers of bean curd crunched satisfyingly with each bite. The center was well-seasoned minced shrimp, which was only accentuated by the sweet & sour dipping sauce (a bit unconventional, but still delicious). The tau hu ky at 5i rivaled that of our established favorites in the SGV and OC. Spectacular!

If you’re in or near the Westside and looking for pho (or to expand your Vietnamese food eating repertoire beyond it), cruise on over to 5i Indochine Cuisine. We can’t speak for the rest of the menu, but the Vietnamese dishes are pretty darn stellar.

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Check out 5i Indochine Cuisine: 5ipho.net

5407 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

See their Yelp reviews here – though to be honest, I disagree with many of the reviews. To address a few: 5i is NOT Asian fusion. Most of the menu features Vietnamese dishes, so don’t order the Thai food and expect it to outdo “authentic” places. Yes, the parking lot can be a bit shady but that’s no reason to penalize the restaurant. And lastly, sparse and curt customer service is just how it is at many Asian restaurants… don’t come here expecting Michelin star treatment (although when we went, we found the staff to be pretty friendly).

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Pho 79 Restaurant – Westminster, CA

Food Adventures, Orange County

Born and raised in Garden Grove just on the outskirts of the ever-growing Vietnamese enclave, I never really paid attention to all of the changes in Little Saigon until I left the OC and moved to Westwood for undergrad. Visiting every weekend at best, maybe less than once a month at my busiest, I finally took notice of the constant construction, the rotation of new trendy restaurants replacing older storefronts, the evolution of the city itself as its northern borders encroached on The Korean District, and the influx of traffic from local residents and out-of-town visitors alike. Many of my favorite restaurants I dined at while growing up had either closed up shop, changed owners, or hired new chefs. But not Pho 79. I could always count on Pho 79 to bring to my table a piping hot bowl of pho just the way I remembered it when I was a little girl earnestly chowing down on the tô nhỏ (literally translated as “small bowl”) with extra gân (beef tendon) while my parents withheld the toy that would accompany the kids meal until I first finished my food. (That’s right – we were eating offal before offal was cool.)

Beautiful bowl of pho!

Beautiful bowl of pho!

Though we’ve graduated from the college town and moved on to other Westside neighborhoods, I still do not visit home as often as I would like (and certainly not as often as my parents would like), but on those rare occasions, Pho 79 is a beloved part of my dining-out rotation. This Little Saigon icon, situated in a humble standalone building just behind a liquor store, has remained largely unchanged throughout the past 20-something years that I have frequented it. Who knows – maybe it has even stayed more or less the same since it first opened in 1979 (hence the namesake) to serve the immigrant post-war families looking for a bit of familiarity. Even the menus have seen better days and I swear they are the same exact ones that my little 3-year-old hands would thumb through, looking for the soda xí muội (salted plum soda) on the last page.

Vietnamese drip-style coffee

Vietnamese drip-style coffee

Nowadays, my beverage of choice is the cà phê sữa đá, or Vietnamese iced coffee. I take it for granted that everyone here in LA always has somewhere else to be, so the slow-dripping French-style cà phê phin is just not a feasible option for the few Vietnamese restaurants on the Westside. Here at Pho 79 we can slow our pace, just for a bit, and let the dark roast steep at its leisure through the filter and into a mug ready and waiting with a dollop of sữa đặc (sweetened condensed milk).

My bowl (Martin's is MIA due to having been devoured)

My bowl (Martin’s is MIA due to having been devoured)

Martin always gets the phở tái sách, tô xe lửa – the largest bowl (literally translated as “train bowl”) with rare steak slices and tripe. I was unable to snap a photo before he dove right in. This is his standard order and he always looks very content while slurping away, strands of rice noodles hanging askew off the edge of his bowl, so just take our word for it – it’s good.

The condiments for pho

The condiments for pho

I like to go a teeny bit fancier with my pho. I will usually order the phở tái gân bò viên, tái để riêng, tô thường – a so-called “regular” sized bowl loaded with beef tendon and beef meatballs served with rare steak slices on the side. I learned this trick from my dad. See, the broth is always so hot that by the time the chef ladles it into the bowl and the server brings the bowl to my table, the beef has overcooked. Having them bring the beef separately allows me to control the process and enjoy the beef when it has just turned a nice pale pink, cooked by the broth’s residual heat. Yum. I also go crazy with the bean sprouts, mint/herbs (traditionally ngò gai, the one that looks like a long serrated blade, and rau quê, commonly known as Thai basil) and a generous squeeze of a fresh lime wedge. In a separate dish, I will also portion out some hoisin sauce (known affectionately as tương ăn phở, or literally, “sauce to eat with pho”) and Huy Fong Foods sriracha, everyone’s favorite hot sauce. At long last, I’m all set… and Martin’s probably halfway through his train bowl at this point.

Ready to drink - ca phe sua da!

Ready to drink – ca phe sua da!

By the time we are close to finishing our meals, the coffee is ready to be stirred and poured over the tall glasses of ice. Mmm… sweet, creamy heaven with a very strong coffee essence. Starbucks lattes ain’t got nothin’ on this!

If you find yourself in Orange County and craving a hot bowl of comforting soup, I definitely recommend stopping by Pho 79. Don’t be intimidated by the alley-side driveway entrance, and don’t be deterred by the apparent lack of parking – the turnover is excellent even during lunch or dinner rush, so sooner or later, someone will be leaving and you can snag their precious parking space. Sign your name on the clipboard hanging on the door or tell a friendly waiter how many people are in your party (holding up the number on your fingers is A-OK too). Then sit back, relax, and prepare for beefy goodness that will transport you to the real streets of Saigon… or (if you’re lucky) blissful memories of your mom’s kitchen.

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Check out Pho 79 Restaurant: pho79.com

9941 Hazard Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844

See their Yelp reviews here!