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

Le Saigon

11611 Santa Monica Blvd.

Los Angeles, Calif., 90025

(310) 312-2929

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    

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