Unlike many, we are not fans of the west coast. Every time we need to travel there, some obstacles lie ahead. The first time, our luggage got lost. We were attending a wedding and Nhi almost had to purchase a new dress for the occasion. (The luggage arrived 6am on the wedding day.) The second and most recent time, our flight was delayed five hours because there was a dent in the aircraft’s wing. (They claimed a bird must have hit the plane. Poor birdie!!!) On our return flight, United Airlines was unable to confirm the checked-in luggage weight, causing a one-hour delay and consequently made us miss our connection flight. In total, we spent 32 hours at the airport + flying for the round trip. United Airlines neither apologized nor offered compensation for all of our troubles. Moral of the story? Never fly United Airlines.
Traveling issues aside, our recent trip to Anaheim was productive. Thanh attended his Mid-Year Pharmacy conference. Nhi met up with friends. And we both went on a food adventure. Nom nom nom!
This was the first Vietnamese restaurant we dined in when we went to Anaheim for the first time together back in 2011. Since then, we’ve long yearned to eat here again and sometimes reminisce about the amazing flavors. Quán Hỷ specializes in central Vietnamese dishes – the delicacies of the ancient Imperial City of Hue. Their must-get dish is the appetizer “bánh bèo” (Vietnamese steamed rice cakes with shrimp).
Ốc & Lẩu
Hands down the best restaurant in Orange County. Although Thanh isn’t an adventurous diner, he had no problem savoring the yummy tastes of escargots. We had their house specialties of razor clams in magic sauce (seriously, so heavenly delicious) and the escargot hot pot. Be forewarned that although the service is fast, the wait time just to get in the door will be long. If you get there at 5pm, you’ll probably wait 45 minutes. If you get there around 6-7pm, the wait will most likely be 2 hours. So write down your name and run some errands before getting seated. :) We promise the food is absolutely worth it!
A cozy shop owned by Vietnamese pop singers (and married couple) Lynda Trang Đài and Tommy Ngo. The decor is centered around the theme of stars (aka celebrities). Many autographed photos adorned the wall nearest to the entrance. Towards the back, there is a mural of famous signatures. The entire space looks very modern and clean. They serve sandwiches as well as noodle soups. While Lynda is very proud of her secret sauce, which she personally makes, it leaves the sandwich a tad too sweet. The bread itself is very good. The filling consists of abundant vegetables and proteins. Very comparable to Lee’s Sandwiches. We also were lucky to have spotted Lynda herself. She was taking a party order and Nhi totally did the I’m-pretending-to-use-my-phone-but-actually-secretly-taking-photos-of-you… Thanh actually said hi and she nicely said hi back. :)
Uyên Thy Bistro
Uyên Thy not only owns the restaurant but also runs a cooking show on SBTN (Bếp Nhà Ta Nấu). Thanh is a huge fan of the show and credits his good cooking to her “tutelage”. The restaurant was a bit empty. The service was slow. But overall, we had a very homey experience. It felt like dining at a relative’s house. The foods have a very home-cooked vibe. We recommend this bistro if you’re missing your mom’s cooking. :)
Corner View Bakery
This bakery is also owned by Uyen Thy. It breaks Thanh’s heart to admit how terrible the bakery is. We ordered bánh bao (steamed stuffed buns), green tea cake, pandan cream puffs, and flan. The buns were dry and had very little filling. The cake was overly sweet. We couldn’t even finish what we ordered. We just want to forget the experience and pretend this bakery doesn’t exist.
Located two doors down from Ky Duyen House, Tren is a restaurant and bar owned by Vietnamese pop singer Minh Tuyết. The decor was terrible, if not nonexistent. The food was salty and consisted of mostly carbs (very little proteins were provided). The service was slow and inattentive. Our overall impression is that Minh Tuyết didn’t even try. Do your stomach a favor and dine elsewhere.
This restaurant is owned by Vietnamese comedians Việt Hương and Hoài Tâm. Unlike Tren, customers can clearly detect the owners’ efforts in running their restaurant. We love their clever logo and the seasonal decorations that adorned their restaurant. The food was good, though not amazing. We thought their appetizers and desserts truly hit the mark. But their specialty entree of bún mắm fell short of expectations.
We met up with a vegan friend who chose this eatery. It is a fitting name as the place is rather tiny. The walls are adorned with photos of famous vegan celebrities. Next to the cash register is a mini library containing spiritual books. So unique! We also love the foods and strongly recommend Hainam Grilled Rice.
We always have a soft spot for tea shops (ex: Tea Garden & Tea Time). Tebo is larger than most. While it mostly serves tea, you can also order foods here. We felt their fruity drinks leaned more toward desserts than actual tea. The place was indeed busy, but service was slow and inattentive. The drinks were just average (not worth the wait), but Nhi did love their blossom tea.
Phước Lộc Thọ
You can’t mention Little Saigon without mentioning Phước Lộc Thọ (Asian Garden Mall). There is a nice food court in the center on the first floor. We personally wouldn’t do any shopping here, but it’s a nice gathering of small stores where you can find Vietnamese clothing and products. Side note: we did replace watch batteries for really cheap.
California has a full coastline of beaches, with Laguna being one of its most famous. It is indeed beautiful and offers a nice stroll to enjoy the California sunshine, but the best beach to us remains Siesta Keys in Florida with its smooth, white sand.
Walking by foot and trying to follow road signs, it is somewhat confusing to find. It was rather small and underwhelming. (Florida boasts a much more impressive Downtown Disney.) We went during the daytime, so perhaps there was nothing going on. However, as expected, Frozen was on full display. We saw Elsa everywhere!
It seems like everything is very spaced out on the west coast. Orange County lacks an easy-to-use subway/metro system. It seems the best way to get around is to have a native be your chauffeur (you can rent a car, but be warned that California drivers are crazy). Of course, such a luxury is not easy to come by. Uber made getting around a cinch with its mobile app. With the tracking GPS system and built-in payments (no money exchange occurs between you and the driver), you just need a few simple clicks to get here and there. We don’t know how Uber’s fare compares to taxi, but the convenience definitely is a big plus. You can always check the estimated fee before agreeing to each ride. We find the estimated fee has always been accurate. After each ride, Uber asks you to rate your experience and provide feedback (optional). Their manager replied to our minor negative feedback within minutes. Should you like to try Uber, let us know! We have a code for a free ride and we’d love to share it with you.
While the “Golden Coast” seems to “curse” us with headaches and troubles before we get there and after we leave, we can’t complain too much when we are there with the sunny weather and delicious, authentic, and inexpensive Vietnamese food in Orange County. We certainly wouldn’t want to live in California, but a trip now and then to visit friends and whet our appetites makes the frustration worthwhile.