Restaurant review: Saigon Dish dishes up culinary adventures in Vietnamese cuisine – Daily Breeze

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Beef and onions, served with rice, at Saigon Dish, a Vietnamese restaurant in Lawndale. (Photo courtesy Yelp)

Smoked chicken with yellow rice (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Spicy beef noodle (Photo courtesy Yelp)

Shrimp spring rolls (Photo courtesy Yelp)

Get off the 405 at Hawthorne Boulevard, and chances are you’ll be heading south into Redondo Beach and Torrance — the land of large mega-shopping malls like the South Bay Galleria and Del Amo. Shop till you drop incarnate.
But turn north into Lawndale and Hawthorne and you’ll find yourself not in a realm of shopping on steroids — but into a landscape built of mini-malls both smaller and a little larger — and of some of the best ethnic dining in town.
The options are many, and a bit madcap. And right in the midst of it all, you’ll find one of the most popular Vietnamese eateries in town — the aptly named Saigon Dish.
The restaurant comes as a surprise. From the outside, it looks generic, a typical place to go for pho and spring rolls. But pass through the door and you’ll find a restaurant that’s packed with locals, chowing down on the widest range of Vietnamese eats this side of Westminster down in The OC.
Though I guess many of the cars in the lot are there for the branch of Spires, a restaurant much loved by an older demographic, many others have shown up for lemongrass, barbecue pork and shrimp cakes.
The portions at Spires are big, but they aren’t a culinary adventure. By contrast, Saigon Dish is a journey to far away, right off a freeway exit.
It also takes a certain amount of culinary consideration. For though the menu should be familiar to many, it’s a lot more extensive than most. There are cha gio, crispy egg rolls, served with a “tangy” fish sauce; no surprise there. But if you want soft, translucent spring rolls, you can get them packed with, variously, shrimp and pork, grilled pork, grilled chicken, or pork and shrimp patties.
There are shredded pork skin rolls — you can make a pretty great meal out of nothing but the rolls, which also come with a peanut sauce that would be just right on satay.
If you don’t feel like pho — sometimes I feel as if the world has devolved into a choice between pho and ramen — consider the Vietnamese chicken salad, a very distant cousin of Chinese chicken salad, but without the silly bells and whistles.
There’s a beef and onion salad as well, flavored with lots of lime juice. It’s a party in your mouth — as long as your mouth is down with spice.
If you do need pho, there’s plenty of it. The base, of course, is beef broth with rice noodles, flavored with cilantro, onions, bean sprouts, basil, lime and jalapenos, to which you can add steak, brisket, beef tendon, tripe, meatballs, chicken — and in one notable exception, shrimp, squid, fish cakes and shrimp balls.
But there’s also chiw chow soup, not often found in Vietnamese menus, explained as being a typical dish from the south of China and north of Vietnam. It comes either wet (with soup) or dry (with soup on the side).
And like many items on the menu, it comes with a back story — we discover that the mi quang chiw chow is from Da Nang, where it’s made with marinated pork, ground pork, shrimp, crushed peanuts and crispy rice crackers. For $8, that’s a lot of food.
Indeed, a lot of food is one of the defining qualities here — along with lots of spice and flavor. There are vermicelli noodle salad bowls, a wonderful dish on a hot South Bay day — love the flavor of the mint leaves, and the fish sauce dressing.
There’s chao — Vietnamese porridge — much like the Chinese jook and congee. And there’s a section of very colorful house specials — multi-part combo plates that in one case are built around Korean barbecue, grilled shrimp, fried shrimp cakes, pork meatloaf and shredded pork skin — along with a world of condiments and sauces.
Unexpectedly, there’s a tomato soup on the menu — though it’s made with crab, pork and sausage. At Saigon Dish, much is as you expect it to be — but much isn’t either.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at [email protected].

Want to go?

Rating: 3 stars
Address: 15725 Hawthorne Blvd., Lawndale.
Information: 310-676-8778,
Cuisine: Vietnamese.
When: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday.
Details: Beer and wine. Reservations helpful.
Prices: About $15 per person.
Cards: MC, V. 
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