As a Los Angeles native, my perception of Chinatown was that it tourist location with clusters of lame, dirty, and run down restaurants that easily impress tourists and foreigners with their sub par food— not really a place where the locals would eat. However, my experience at Hoan Kiem restaurant begs to differ as it turned out to be one of the best hidden secrets.
Hoan Kiem restaurant is a Vietnamese restaurant that specializes in three items: Banh Cuon (rice paper rolled cake), Pho Ga (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup), and Com Ga Hai Nam (Hai Nam chicken with rice). All these are classic Vietnamese cuisine items other than typical Pho beef noodles. Quick, clean, with friendly service, Hoan Kiem provides an authentic meal for less than $7.
Experienced with Vietnamese dishes throughout life, honestly the banh cuon (pronounced "bun goon") from Hoan Kiem is one of the best and comparable to the dishes in Vietnam. My dad who was born and raised in Vietnam with his 65 years of knowledge and experience with Vietnamese cuisine definitely agrees. With its symmetrical presentation, I was eager to try this hole in the wall’s most well known dish.
First thing first, I doused the banh cuon with every drip of fish sauce that was given. I pulled apart my disposable chopsticks and went right to work. The rice paper was fresh and thin.
At first bite, my eyes opened up as a natural reaction to the surprising warmth of the gooey rice paper, pork bits, and chopped mushroom. It was topped with bits of crispy dried onions with freshly sliced cucumbers and steamed be
an sprouts on the side. Moreover it was surrounded with a Vietnamese style pork loaf slices. The fish sauce was not overly potent and provided the correct balance to the overall healthy meal. I effortlessly devoured the meal within minutes as it was easy to eat, feeling satisfied but not overstuffed.
If you are looking for an authentic Vietnamese dining experience without asking your wallet for a big allowance, this is one of the best places to go. I conversed in English with Jeff, nephew of the original owner, so do not be intimated if you are unfamiliar with the surrounding cultural atmosphere. Around the area you can find Chinese themed gift shops and kiosks to complete your Chinatown excursion.
Finding the restaurant will be an adventure in itself as it is tucked away in the Chinatown Far East Plaza, the same plaza as the Wing Hop Fun herbal store between HSBC and Chusan Plaza. Parking is available on the street. There are also some parking lots nearby that charge between $3-10 depending on the day of the week. The LA Metro Gold Line Chinatown Station is also conveniently nearby.
727 N. Broadway Suite #130
Los Angeles, CA 90012
It’s worth the trip, trust.