Some friends won’t dine with me at Le Saigon because they don’t serve beer or wine, but personally I find the fresh coconut juice a special treat.
It’s a small, plain restaurant with a utilitarian look. There seems to be a lot of waiters around for a small place and I find the service fast and friendly. I love the food, but there are a lot of negative reviews on the Internet about both food and service. Personally, I have always found both wonderful.
The descriptions on the menu don’t do justice to the food. How many Santa Monicans know what “pho” is? Let me just say it’s a meal in itself, a bowl of delicious broth filled with items you select and at $8.95 it’s a great bargain.
I’m not certain what she saw on the menu, but a young Asian woman at the table next to me the last time I was there had a big stack of very thin, delicate crepes on a pate, and three plates of meats and vegetables on her table. She was carefully selecting a few bites from each plate, putting it on a crepe. Rolling up the crepe, dipping in a sauce, and devouring it in two or three bites, all with chopsticks without touching it with her hands! What dexterity! I wonder how she is with a fork.
She probably ordered the Nem Nuong, described on the menu as “roll your own rolls.” At $12.50 it’s the most expensive dish on the menu.
On another table in view, a bunch of athletic looking guys had plates of imperial rolls, meatball rolls, and various skewers. Imperial rolls are the best known Vietnamese dish — fried rolls with pork and vegetable filling perfect for dipping. At $4.95 for four rolls it’s a bargain.
For myself I ordered the plate of two spring rolls. These are the non-fried rolls with vegetables, pork and shrimp rolled in a vermicelli crepe. Two dipping sauces were served — the traditional dark sauce, and a spicy red chili sauce.
There are a lot of other dishes on the menu, but I can’t tell what they are from just looking at the menu. But I’m going back to find out, one at a time.
The food at Le Saigon is exotic, but in a different way than, say, Indian food. The spices do not over-power the natural flavors. The ingredients are familiar, but served in a different way and in different combinations. The flavors are mildly different. It’s a nice break from tacos and pizza, the standard American fare.
If You Go
11611 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, Calif., 90025
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.