October 02, 2012
I've Been to Nong La Way Too Many Times Already
There is one thing that amazes me about L.A's food scene. It's a city of millions of people, and dozens of different ethnicities. There are more juice bars than gluttonous nouveau donut shops (like NYC's Donut Plant or Donut Snob). There are absolutely no edible Chinese restaurants on the Westside with the exception of 101 Noodle Express at the old Fox Hills Mall. By the way, I love how everyone calls that dumb Westfield the Fox Hills Mall. Anyway, that freaking mall is the home of the only palatable Chinese restaurant in a swath of L.A. that might contain upwards of two million people. It's an absolutely miserable truth that goes against that L.A. foodie mantra and belief that this city is great as a food town because of its diversity of ethnic food. Yes, it's true that L.A. DOES have the greatest variety of ethnic cuisine in the United States and arguably the world.
But, we have one terribly overlooked fact - Chinese food and Vietnamese food on the Westside sucks. If one freaking restaurateur of Asian origin decided to make a restaurant on the level of Conejo Valley's Hot Wok (yes, this is a nameless Chinese restaurant in like Thousand Oaks or Calabasas) or China Mama in Las Vegas' Chinatown, they would be worthy of a ridiculous amount of accolades. No. Instead we have a stupid chain restaurant (albeit, a pretty good one) at a swanky, re-done MALL food court (not a knock against food courts - gotta love them), in 101 Noodle Express (God bless those beef rolls). I'm pretty sure most of the clientele at the Fox Hills Mall think that it's some dumb re-iteration of Panda Express, but it's NOT.
Sorry for this extended rant about the dearth of Asian food on the Westside. We have one sort of shining beacon in a humble, minimalist eatery on the burgeoning Sawtelle Blvd called Nong La. Here, you get fresh spring rolls that are tighter than a garden variety blunt from Compton. The pho is no slouch, with a decent aromatic quality and beef richness. It also doesn't cost more than $9. The bun is just okay, mostly because the noodles are authentically thicker (not thin angel hair vermicelli, those I like those version too). The banh mi aren't anything to write home about. You wish for more filling, better bread, more options, livery spreads, variety cuts and mysterious pates but alas, you can't have everything in life. But the real reason I'm here is because of the bun bo hue. It's a fun word to pronounce, something that I'll never quite get right because of the distinct inflections and pronunciation of Vietnamese, but my favorite dish nonetheless. My ex introduced me to this anti-pho, and I call it that because it's almost everything that pho is not. Pho is great - it's subtle, comforting, soothing - something Koreans have tried to copy in glorious fashion, though without much success. There was a massive pho craze in Korea that trickled to LA's Koreatown that only has a few remnants (that still make for decent hangover food). Bun bo hue (try to bounce it as you speak it, with a upward accent on the last word) is spicy, dank, funky, like yo mama was trying to learn you how to eat some beefy parts you didn't know existed.
Admittedly, Nong La's is slightly cleaned up for the average white diner, though it still makes it pretty low on the pecking order here. It looks terrifying compared to the genteel, elegant, steaming bowl of pho. Bun bo hue is for serious Vietnamese food fans, and one that Westsiders can be proud of. There are tendons, random bits, even monstrous sized meatballs that don't come from the bargain aisle of LAX-C (a Costco-like Asian warehouse in Downtown). The noodles are the thicker, tubular vermicelli that goes in the bun, like Vietnam's paltry rice imitation of bucatini. These noodles feel right in this broth, glistening with red chili oil and bobbing with the aforementioned variety meats. Thankfully no liver here (maybe I'm whiter than I think). Liver you'll get in San Gabriel Valley or Westminster. There's a sprinkling of cilantro, and optional lime wedges that balance out all the flavors with a acidic brightness that makes the whole utterly addictive to the last slurp.
2055 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Closed Mondays, Valet Parking in the back (just pay tip, no fee)
Posted by mattatouille at 9:47 PM