Vietnamese In AC

For great Vietnamese food, we recommend exactly three places. We’re sure there are more gems out there, but we’ve latched on to this trio: 1) Ba Le on Washington Avenue pork banh mi tucked into heavenly, fresh-baked baguettes, 2) Vietnam offshoot Vietnam Café in West Philly for nem nuong and killer corn pudding, and 3) Little Saigon, located 60 miles away in Atlantic City. During an overnight jaunt to AC this week, we popped over and found the restaurant chugging along, weathering winter’s dry spell with a steady stream of lunching locals and in-the-know casino execs.

Opened in 1990, Little Saigon is a young bol compared to other AC icons like Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern, Tony’s Baltimore Grill and the elusive Chef Vola, but it holds its own among these local institutions, as integral a part of the fabric of Atlantic City dining as Formica Bros. bread and saltwater taffy. At first glance, it looks like any other ethnic restaurant: busted sign over the door, tinted windows trimmed in neon, drop ceilings trimmed in Christmas garland all year round. But check out the wall blanketed in family photos. Between the cheap oak frames are polished plaques, awards, stratospheric Zagat ratings, glowing reviews, dozens of food writers wagging their tongues over the fresh, authentic Southern Vietnamese fare.

Anyone who loves herbs will love Little Saigon—and Vietnamese cuisine in general. It’s why the country’s food is one of our personal faves; the way fresh mint, basil and cilantro find their way into everything. Mint especially, too often relegated to garnishing our soufflés and greening our ice creams. Mint ain’t no pussy, something Vietnam knows well. The herb makes a serious impact in savory cooking too. At Little Saigon, it’s the bouquet of camphorous flavor wafting through the tangy lotus root, shrimp and sliced pork salad showered in crushed peanuts; tempering the heat of the bubbling curry chicken soup with rice vermicelli, chilies, red onions and carrots. Chopped herbs cover the crunchy, satisfying Vietnamese chicken salad like green confetti. With lemongrass, they freshen up a bowl of bun. Little Saigon’s portions are huge (and cheap), but you’ll leave feeling light.

For dessert, it’s Vietnamese coffee, served hot or iced, the requisite nod to the country’s French occupation. Little Saigon uses individual mini drips that sit atop each cup, pling-pling-plinging brewed coffee dark as melted chocolate onto a layer of sweetened condensed milk. Check out the circa-1970s thermos that arrived with the hot coffee! Tell us you wouldn’t want that shit in your lunchbox. The container brims with boiling water, should you want to brew yourself another cup. Cool.

You don’t need to wait till summer to get to Little Saigon, only a short hop from the Atlantic City Convention Center, where their annual beer festival is going down this weekend. For all the questionable decision-making one can do in AC, eating here is one thing you won’t regret in the morning.

Photo: blogalicious


Anonymous said...

The title should be "vietnamese in Philly", since all 3 of those places are located in Philadelphia...lol how is 60miles from AC in AC??

adam said...

Read: "60 miles away in AC," as in 60 miles away from Philly. Doy.