cha gio -- fried egg rolls with vegetables
Vietnam House is a bit of an enigma -- it has the same owners as Golden Deli but with a larger menu, as well as beer and wine -- yet Golden Deli seems to be busier. And although it's at one of those amazing minimall Asian food epicenters, home to Newport Seafood and Luscious Dumplings, several other interesting Chinese restaurants and Golden Deli itself, it's sort of hidden in a corner of the minimall and not easy to spot. Not only does it have a shorter wait at peak hours, Vietnam House serves 7 Courses of Beef, for $12.95, as well as baked whole catfish and sizzling barbecue plates.
banh hoi nem nuong -- sausagy meatballish things with noodle pancakes
There's no mystery, though, about the massive quantities of well-prepared, homey Vietnamese dishes at bargain prices available at either one. It was entertaining watching all 12 courses of beef arrive at the table next to us, but we wanted to try a wider range of dishes. We started with the famous cha gio, egg rolls with vegetables, perfectly-fried fat rolls which gained a whole new dimension when rolled up with lettuce, cilantro and basil. We then had a little bit of everything -- wonderfully fragrant beef pho soup, banh hoi nem nuong, which is kind of a pork sausage on top of vermicelli pancakes topped with peanuts; a bahn mi sandwich, and broken rice topped with shredded pork, more egg rolls and shrimp paste (unless you're a huge shrimp paste fan, spring for the grilled shrimp instead). Although these places are brightly lit and bustling, the homestyle cooking tastes like what your grandmother would make you on a blustery night, if she was Vietnamese. And you'd be lucky to have a grandmother like that. There's beer if you want it, and a rainbow of drinks including pickle lemonade, cherimoya smoothie and kickass iced coffee. Just be careful when you go: Vietnam House is inexplicably closed on Tuesdays, while its sibling Golden Deli rests randomly on Wednesday.
Vietnam House, 710 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 282-6327