Sunday, January 09, 2005

LA, CA - Mein Nghia

I've been eating here for decades. Well, two decades or so, anyway.
Mein Nghia is an unassuming hole in the wall Vietnamese-Chinese noodle shop in the old Chinatown of Los Angeles; the Chinatown that's since been replaced by entire Chinese communities such as San Gabriel, San Marino, Diamond Bar, etc.

Admittedly I haven't tried every single thing on the menu, but I've tried enough to know what is good. Recommended: any of the seafood noodle soups, the satay beef dishes, the beef stew dishes and the chicken/fish noodle soups. I used to come here once a week and rotate through my favorites but now that I come only several times a year, I always get the same thing: No. 1. No, it's not the superbowl sized pho here, it's the seafood rice noodle soup. To say it's tasty is an understatement. I've never had noodles this good anywhere else in the world, and I've had noodles in nearly 30 countries now.

No. 1 comes with fish cake, fresh shrimp, fish balls, pork bits, fried shallots, bean sprouts (available on the side) pork kidney (optional for an additional charge). The noodles are always perfectly cooked. Not too hard, not too soft, and seasoned just right. The food comes out in mere minutes at the perfect temperature. You can dig straight in without scalding your tongue, yet its comforting warmth soothes your stomach after the flavors and textures have captured the full attention of your tastebuds.

The service is standard Chinatown hole-in-the-wall service. They slam the tea down, and get impatient if you take too long to order.

She ordered something against my advice, the black bean rib noodle soup, And well, it wasn't very good. She immediately noticed a distinct lack of meat, and the meat that was crouched in one corner of the bowl didn't look very black bean-ish. The cut-up ribs were on the dry side and had very little flavor; a meager showing of black bean bits left the pork woefully naked and fairly disappointing in taste.

Wanting to try both the egg and rice noodles, she opted for a combination of both, and for the soup to be served on the side. Again, another ordering mistake, but luckily the noodles were soon redeemed by submerging the bowl of noodles with the soup. The broth was a light, almost sweet seafood base with a delightful splash of roasted shallots and oil that provided a delicious coating for both the rice and egg noodles. Usually, noodles and broth were too much food for her to finish, but the addictive flavor of both kept her going until the entire bowl was empty. She also got to try nibbles of his seafood, and immediately wished that she had his dish. The shrimp was plump and crispy, and the unadulterated seafood broth a suiting complement to the other ingredients.

Both he and she agree: Mein Nghia knows their noodles.


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