Of the new restaurants crowding the Vietnamese restaurant scene, this dozen represents best the delicious new era in Little Saigon and beyond.
Amazon. There's talent in the kitchen at this swankily designed lounge and hangout in an obscure location off busy Bolsa Avenue. Recommended dishes: fried quail; sautéed venison with onion on a bed of lettuces and herbs; salt and pepper calamari; green papaya salad. 14942 Bushard St. (at Bolsa), Westminster, (714) 775-1888.
Aysya. Ambitiously conceived, this luxe-looking spot turns out modestly priced, familiar pan-Asian selections, inventive Euro-Asian plates and a few international standards such as grilled rib-eye steak. Recommended dishes: soft-shell crabs in spicy tamarind butter; mango salad with charcoal grilled shrimp; sea bass in spicy Thai Panang-style curry; crispy roasted fish (comes with the works -- rice paper, herbs, lettuce and sauces). 17271 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 593-4041, www.aysya.com.
Brodard Chateau. A radical upgrade of the popular Brodard Nem Nuong cafe offering all the expected amenities: full bar, attentive service and many dishes plated Western-style as individual servings. Recommended dishes: roasted duck salad with banana blossoms, fresh herbs and peanut-shallot vinaigrette; "moon cakes" (crunchy rice cups holding grilled shrimp with lettuce and fresh herbs served with chile dipping sauce); spring roll of grilled shrimp cake with vegetables and crispy roll; sizzling sole, prepared northern style, sprinkled with caramelized shallots, fresh herbs and crushed peanuts. 9100 Trask Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 899-8273; www.brodard.net.
Co La. Word of mouth keeps customers flowing through the door of this hip little cafe with fabulous central-style food. Recommended dishes: mi quang noodles; banh bot loc (small meat-filled tapioca dumplings with dipping sauce); bun bo Hue (central-style spicy beef, pork and noodle soup); shredded green papaya and chicken salad with mint leaves and ginger dressing; avocado smoothie. Century Garden Grove Plaza, 12111-D Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 636-1188.
Grand, Com Ga Hai Nan. Small but chic with its bas-relief wall designs and sleek, dark wood seating, this jewel concentrates on free-range chicken creations. Recommended dishes: poached chicken Hainan-style with broth-cooked rice and three dipping sauces (lightly spiced ginger, scallion purée and a deep, smoky soy); chicken salad with sliced fresh chile, spicy ginger dressing and the pungent herb, rau ram; chicken pho noodle soup; mung bean-coconut milk iced drink. 9904 Westminster Ave. (Mall of Fortune), Garden Grove, (714) 638-1310.
Hot Pot City. Lively and packed with families, this tabletop barbecue and hot-pot spot represents Little Saigon's growing interest in various Asian cuisines. Recommended dishes: rib-eye beef plate; marinated pork plate; fresh okra; fresh mushroom plate; noodle and vegetable plate for the hot pot. 15606 Brookhurst St. (Brookhurst Town Center), Westminster (714) 531-5402, www.hotpotcity-tablebbq.com.
Le V Cuisine. Smart, spare décor with a touch of red silk and an impressive Lucite wall of wines set the tone for a change-of-pace menu that offers inventive and traditional plates, large and small. Recommended dishes: banana flower salad with baby clams in lemon dressing served with crispy rice cracker; salmon carpaccio with crispy capers; baby lamb chops appetizer with blue cheese-potato fondue; orange duck fried rice; shaken filet mignon (bo luc lac) with tomato-rice salad. 17431 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 593-8511.
Quan Hop. Stylishly plated, consistently delicious pan-regional dishes pair perfectly with the restaurant's relaxed contemporary-rustic setting. Recommended dishes: pho tai filet mignon (pho noodle soup with thinly sliced raw filet mignon on the side -- it cooks when you add it to the soup); banh beo (steamed mini rice cakes topped with shrimp); banh hoi -- angel-hair-fine rice noodle mats -- served with smoky grilled pork slices and vegetables; green jackfruit salad. 15640 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 689-0555.
Pholicious. This bright fresh shop on a residential side street has perfected little-seen varieties of pho and offers fresh fruit slushies and boba teas. Recommended dishes: pho tom (pho noodle soup with shrimp); pho No. 8 with well-done flank and rare steak; grilled pork and egg roll on rice vermicelli with vegetables and nuoc cham sauce (served cold); freshly made apple-orange-carrot juice. 10585 Slater Ave., No. 4A, Fountain Valley, (714) 378-9923, www.pholicious.com.
Pho Republic Noodles and Grill. Vietnamese antiques, leafy bamboo and tropical flowers set the stage for superbly cooked family-style meals at this downtown Anaheim historic district spot. Recommended dishes: Saigon wrap or lau (Vietnamese-style shabu shabu with beef and mixed seafood); eggplant and tofu in garlic basil sauce; vegetarian curry soup with tofu; lemon grass chicken sauté. 30 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 999-1200, www.pho-republic.com.
S. Vietnamese Fine Dining. Staffed with helpful servers, a beautifully wrought restaurant that gives traditional Vietnamese favorites an appealing au courant twist. Recommended dishes: Vietnamese-style ceviche (goi ca); large shrimp wrapped in fine egg noodle, fried and served with pickled vegetables (mi cuon tom); diced pork and periwinkle balls with ginger dipping sauce; Vietnamese fried rolls (chagio) -- rice paper wrapped around minced pork, crab and shrimp accompanied with leafy green herbs. 545 Westminster Mall Drive, Westminster, (714) 898-5092, www.sfinedining.com.
Zon Baguettes. This snappily designed fast-food-style shop straddles East and West with its collection of traditional Vietnamese one-plate meals and American takes on the Vietnamese sandwich. Recommended dishes: grilled Mexican beef sandwich; grilled pork sandwich; special combo sandwich with assorted cold cuts; Denver omelet sandwich. 14081 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-1366.
-- Linda Burum