The Vietnamese goi cuon, or spring roll, is a satisfying marriage of textures and flavors—quite possibly the perfect hand-held meal. Fillings vary, usually a mixture of noodles, fresh herbs, and poached or grilled meats, all tightly wrapped in chewy, delicate rice paper. None is as popular as goi cuon nem nuong stuffed with chargrilled, marinated pork, fried egg roll skin, and fresh lettuces, mint, cucumber, and chive. In Little Saigon, Brodard Restaurant has dominated for decades with its acclaimed nem nuong rolls and signature dipping sauce. Today, a handful of eateries offer their own renditions. Here are three of our favorites.
The newest Little Saigon spring roll shop, Nem, is a tiny spot with three varieties on the menu. Stick to the house specialty, nem nuong cuon. The translucent wrap shows off the grilled pork, which arrives warm and juicy, with adequate char, nestled in the usual accouterments. The dipping sauce is quite close to Brodard’s, if a smidgen sweeter.
The best modern adaptation of goi cuon is at Bamboo Bistro, a cozy sibling restaurant of Brodard. Here, the roasted duck rolls are a must-order: succulent and savory meat with crispy skin tucked into the bundle with scallions, fresh mint, cilantro, cucumber, and snappy asparagus. It’s flavorful enough on its own, but try the tangy plum sauce.
One of O.C.’s best Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants is Mitasie 3, a no-frills spot that offers a memorable and, of course, meatless version of the nem nuong cuon: the Soy BBQ Roll. The flattened and grilled soy patty, resembling a strip of jerky, is a tasty substitute for the real thing. Bean sprouts and carrots add crunch, while the buttery avocado slices deliver color. Served with a simple peanut-and-chili dipping sauce, you won’t even miss the meat.
9792 Westminster Blvd., Garden Grove, 714-494-9499, nemcuon.com
2600 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, 949-720-1289, vietbamboobistro.com
7636 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, 714-847-5262
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue.