Few dishes are better suited to summer than the surprisingly stout Vietnamese noodle salad. A tangle of cool, chewy noodles—rice vermicelli (called bún)—is the base for an unending list of toppings. Constants include vibrant fresh herbs, lettuce wedges, strands of lightly pickled carrot, and a ramekin of subtly sweet and spicy nuoc cham as dressing. The dish is resoundingly light and utterly satisfying.
The menu at Hien Thanh is sprawling and inclusive, a daunting assemblage for such a homey little space. There are, of course, a variety of vermicelli salads. Order the bún with charbroiled pork and snappy shrimp, one of the quintessential duos in all of Vietnamese cuisine (right). The pork is spotted with patches of crispy char; the shrimp still plump and taut. Toss the noodles, vegetables, and herbs together and be amazed at every bite’s variety of tastes and textures.
Bo De Tinh Tam Chay is an elegant den of vegetarian Vietnamese cuisine. The Buddhist-leaning restaurant serves no meat—even the “fish” sauce is vegetarian. The ultimate combo packs cucumber, lettuce, carrot, a handful of bean sprouts, basil, mint, shredded tofu tossed with glass noodles, charbroiled tofu, and a few lengths of crispy egg roll.
At Huntington Beach’s Silk Noodle Bar, fresh rice noodles are extruded from a machine right before your eyes. The noodles are bouncy and tender, just strong enough to support the weight of, say, the restaurant’s great grilled chicken. Silk’s bowl isn’t as rigorously traditional as some, but with shreds of purple cabbage and an umami-rich dollop of caramelized onion, it’s just as flavorful.
A PERFECT COMPLEMENT to bún is banh it ram—the fried sticky rice dumpling from central Vietnam. Hien Thanh’s popular version includes crisp discs of fried rice crowned with a dome of steamed glutinous rice as stretchy and toothsome as fresh mozzarella.
9741 Bolsa Ave., Westminster
Bo De Tinh Tam Chay
15352 Beach Blvd., Westminster
Silk Noodle Bar
16334 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach