Orange County has the oldest and largest Little Saigon in the United States. Home to about 200,000 Vietnamese Americans, the suburban area is dotted with strip malls featuring a wide variety of Vietnamese shops ranging from mom-and-pop restaurants, bakeries, to cafes.
I’ve explored the whole Little Saigon in Orange County during my time working there. In Little Saigon, I learned what it takes to run a business you’re passionate about.
If you’re ever in the area, I recommend checking out my favorite Vietnamese restaurants!
Bo De Vegetarian Food tops the list. When I first arrived in Orange County in 2014, I worked as a part-time server here for two weeks. This homey, family-owned restaurant offers great food and incomparable hospitality and service. The place has a warm feel to it with little Vietnamese flourishes like silk lanterns and calligraphy. But what about the food? Well, there’s a wide and diverse selection that reminds me of Saigon such as spring rolls, noodle soup, stir-fried noodles, and hot pots.
Ideal for a hearty brunch, Nep Cafe offers quick and palatable dishes and tasty coffee inside a sophisticated and modern venue. I co-founded Nep Cafe, before I started my own business Nam Coffee. The menu consists of popular Vietnamese dishes like banh mi chao (bread with combo pan) and cajun pork jowl layered with rich flavors. I recommend the dao and xoi man (savory sticky rice). A combination of potato espuma, sous vide egg and truffle oil, dao is overflowing with creaminess. Xoi man has a whole different texture and flavor profile. Made of sticky rice, cha lua (sausage), quail egg and pork floss, this feast in a bowl is a crowd favorite among the restaurant’s patrons.
Banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) is one of the most popular street snacks in Vietnam, especially in the south. It’s my mom’s favorite, too. So, every time I crave banh xeo, there’s one place in Little Saigon I head to — Quan Mii. The freshly-made crispy banh xeo here look exactly the same as the ones in Vietnam. But it is this simplicity that lends Quan Mii’s banh xeo a feeling of comfort. The crepe is topped with pork shrimp, squid, mushroom and bean sprouts, and some vegetable and rice paper on the side. The banh xeo is quite large so come in groups or come extra-hungry! Other dishes worth trying are banh beo (steamed rice flour cakes) and cha gio (egg rolls).
One of my fondest childhood memories was eating chè (Vietnamese sweet soup) my mom would buy for me after work. Finding the same sweet treat right at Hien Khanh Dessert here in California reminded me that no one can ever be too old for a really tasty dessert. The shop houses all of the Vietnamese desserts you could ever think of. Different varieties of chè, sweet sticky rice, sesame balls, banh cam, fried banana, and cakes are lined up in trays behind the glass like a traditional Vietnamese cafeteria. Though there are so many options, you shouldn’t worry about getting overwhelmed. The friendly “dì” (Auntie) at the shop are always ready to assist and offer recommendations.
Com tam (broken rice) is a staple in every Vietnamese home, in Vietnam or abroad. To many Vietnamese like me, com tam is not just food to fill the stomach, it’s a celebration of cultural identity. This hidden gem in Westminster serves the best broken rice in the area, piping hot and freshly topped with your choice of shredded pork skin, egg ake, pork barbecue or beef ribs. Rice vermicelli meals and classic appetizers like spring rolls are also available.
For fans of Hue-style food, this wildly popular destination in Fountain Valley is the best venue to enjoy delicately prepared bun bo Hue (spicy beef noodle soup) and banh canh (thick noodle soup). Originally established in 2011, Hue Oi was voted Best Vietnamese Restaurant by OC Hot List and was part of the 75 Best Places to Eat in Orange County for several years. Its signature bun bo Hue consists of a rich broth base, tender meat, and a generous portion of fresh vegetables to enjoy with every sip. Besides the classic Hue-style dishes, the restaurant also offers the all-time favorite pho. I literally have tried every dish in the menu — and trust me, nothing here disappoints.
Those who grew up listening to pop star Lynda Trang Dai have probably visited her snack shop Lynda Sandwich. This delightful little place in Westminster isn’t only special because of its unique backstory. Lynda Sandwich is frequented by the locals for its special banh mi menu. The shop has different protein fillings, ranging from the traditional cold-cut pork and fried egg to rotisserie chicken. There are also vegan options such as tofu and radish. All sandwiches come with homemade Lynda sauce (which is really, really good!) and Vietnamese pickles. In addition to being my go-to place for a banh mi fix, Lynda Sandwich played a part in my path in the food industry. Six years ago, I worked there as a barista, cashier and prep cook and gained valuable insight into what it takes to manage a successful business.
These restaurants made it possible for many Vietnamese people in the US to remain connected with our home despite the distance. Similarly, Nam Coffee honors authentic Vietnamese flavors alive and creates connections across the diaspora. Our three different blends — Da Lat, District One, and Orange County — represent the essence of Vietnam. If you visit any of these fantastic restaurants, remember to wash down your delicious meal with our premium Vietnamese coffee.