The day after my college friend's wedding at Hong Kong East Ocean Seafood Restaurant - Emeryville, I met up with my high school friend again for lunch before heading back down south. Funnily enough, the first time I ate at Vung Tau Restaurant was more than three years ago after my other college friend's wedding, again on my way back down south.
I was visiting the friends whom I had met on the plane during my last trip to Vietnam and who ended up being from my hometown. In fact, the husband's parents ended up literally being in the same boat with me. Small world, yeah? Especially if you're from my hometown and also Hainanese. :) Anyway, they took me here for lunch and I had the best ever banh khot (Vietnamese savory cupcakes with shrimp). The filling was so luscious with coconut milk and a crispy outside. No wonder since the restaurant named itself after the seaside town where banh khot were invented. Other versions of banh khot that I've had tasted like mini banh xeo (Vietnamese sizzling pancakes), but these were distinctly different.
Shortly after that, my high school friend moved to the South Bay. After a rather disappointing vacation in Hawaii, she desperately wanted good food when she got back. I offered up the only place I knew -- Vung Tau Restaurant. Despite the jet lag, she immediately drove here and it remains her favorite Vietnamese restaurant. She's tried their other locations and swears by this one. She's tried almost every item on the menu and has liked every dish. She has a vegetarian friend who conveniently forgets he doesn't eat meat when the cha gio (Vietnamese egg rolls) come out. :P
So even though she wanted to try a new restaurant with me, she also really, really likes Vung Tau. We compromised. First lunch at Vung Tau followed by a second lunch somewhere else. Insane! And why is it that my friends are so dependent upon me to try new places?
I got there early so there was plenty of parking available. I whiled away my time by working on the crocheted grey scarf for lil' sis's other friend. By the time we left, the lunch rush was in full swing and cars were trailing us to grab our spot. Even street parking was hard to come by so just be forewarned.
Mmm. Look at the banh khot! An $8.25 order comes with greens and Nuoc Mam Cham (Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce).
If you're familiar with aebleskivers, these are the Vietnamese savory version.
Made of rice flour and coconut milk, with a shrimp inside, and dusted with ground dried shrimp and scallions.
I also ordered Hu Tieu Ba Nam Sa Dec (Vietnamese clear noodles with jumbo prawns, pork, and crab) for $8.50. I have no idea who Ba Nam/Auntie 5 is, but she sure invented a great variation to my beloved hu tieu. Sa Dec is a city in the Mekong Delta.
The noodles are topped with ground pork in a tomato sauce with a shrimp tempura fritter on the side. Oh don't worry. I'm definitely gonna recreate this dish at home.
We also ordered banh dap (Vietnamese rice noodle wrapped toasted sesame rice paper) which came with a choice of beef, shrimp, or pork for $12.95. Again with another plate of herbs and dipping sauce.
I hadn't heard of this dish before. It was basically banh uot wrapped around banh trang. Rather bland. Hence, the seasoned meats on top and fish dipping sauce. My friend had always thought the rice paper was deep-fried, but I told her that's simply what happens when you toast rice paper. :P
The secret to everything in this restaurant? Nuoc Mau (Vietnamese Caramel Sauce). Whohee, I caught a whiff of someone's order of Ca Kho To (Vietnamese Claypot Catfish) as it came by. That liberal use of Vietnamese caramel sauce is why all the meats are so flavorful. The prices are a few bucks more than what I'm used to at a Vietnamese restaurant, but it's made up in the quality of the food and nice ambiance.
Where to next said high school friend who wanted me to find a new restaurant for her to try.
Vung Tau Restaurant
535 E. Santa Clara St.
San Jose, CA 95112
Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
1 year ago today, my mom and dad's garden.
2 years ago today, Persimmon Bread.
3 years ago today, BCD Tofu House - Rowland Heights.