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I was first introduced to Vietnamese food when I lived in Washington DC. There is a large population of Vietnamese living in Northern Virginia and Vietnamese restaurants line the streets the way sushi restaurants do in Los Angeles. I have always been disappointed in not finding more Vietnamese restaurants here as I find Vietnamese food to be fresh, healthy and full of flavor. There is a large concentration of Vietnamese living in Southern California but most of the Vietnamese restaurants are located in Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley. Of course, in Los Angeles you can find a smattering of Pho shops but now you can also find a modern take on Vietnamese food at Khong Ten LA in West LA. Khong Ten translates to "no name" in Vietnamese. Co-Owner and Chef Kim Vu and her partner Don Andes called the restaurant "no name" as they were developing the concept. Don wanted the restaurant to have a Vietnamese name and ironically, on his travels to Vietnam, learned the meaning of Khong Ten. What started as an inside joke stuck and ultimately it is the perfect name for the restaurant. Khong Ten is not a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. "There is really no name to describe what we are doing here," explained Kim Vu. "We are not a Vietnamese restaurant. It is more an exploration of Vietnamese cuisine." Kim is a first-generation Vietnamese-American but considers herself part of what she describes as the "third wave." She identifies as 100% Vietnamese but is nothing like her parents. She explained that "the first generation cooks like they are back home and then the second generation, especially in California, starts to use local, fresh ingredients that are available. The third generation re-imagines the cuisine of their parents."
The District by Hannah An opened two years ago, in 2015, on the busy 3rd Street, in the original space of Barefoot Cafe, across the street from Cedars Sinai Hospital. The District by Hannah An is owned by Hannah An, the eldest of Helene An's five daughters. The restaurant business is in her blood, having grown up in her mother's restaurants, including Beverly Hills iconic Crustacean. The space is very beautiful. Starting with the outdoor covered patio with greenery crawling up the walls to the inside with wood walls and wood bars.The space is warm and friendly with a modern feel. When I first arrived, I went to the bar to wait for my friend. The bartender offered me the menu and happy-hour menu but I explained I was having dinner in the dining room. He did not take initiative regarding drinks and I had to ask for the drink menu. After asking a few questions, I finally decided on a sparkling lambrusco, which they were out of. But he never tried to offer anything else in exchange. Luckily my friend arrived shortly after this and when we sat down for dinner, we selected an aromatic, crisp bottle of Elena Walch Gewurztraminer from Northern Italy to enjoy with the flavors of the food.
When a friend asked me to meet him for drinks in Culver City at the end of January, he suggested East Borough. I had not yet heard of the restaurant and learned that it had been open for less than a week. I found the restaurant on Washington Blvd., just east of Sony Studios and next door to City Tavern, and we enjoyed a few tasty cocktails. I knew I had to return soon for the food, which I did. East Borough is a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant with a first location in Costa Mesa. John Cao and chef Chloe Tran from Costa Mesa have partnered with Paul Hibler (Pitfire Pizza, Superba Snack Bar) and chef Jason Neroni (Superba Snack Bar) to offer Vietnamese flavors and the French-influenced side of Vietnamese cuisine. The staff is exceptionally friendly and very well versed in each dish on the menu. Starting with the cocktails, they are all made with fresh juice and house-crafted items. The cocktails incorporate Asian flavors and spices, such as thai basil, tamarind, ginger and lemongrass. The Saigon Soda (gin, kiwi, vinegar, lime, thai basil), In Eastern Fashion (bourbon, pomelo, chocolate chili bitters), Tamarindo (reposado, tamarind, lime, sriracha salt) were refreshing subtle cocktails. But, the subtlety was enhanced when paired with the spicy flavors of the food.