All too often, Vietnamese restaurants outside of Little Saigon or the San Gabriel Valley water down flavors based on what owners feel non-core demographics can handle. That’s why any bowl of bún bò Huế on LA’s Westside won’t contain congealed pork blood cubes, if they even serve bún bò Huế at all. Regional dishes are rarities. Yes, there are some great Vietnamese flavors at Cassia, for instance, but that’s an anomaly.
There’s finally a ray of hope in Redondo Beach, right off the 405 freeway, with Pho Hue Oi. The Duong family already runs one of Little Saigon’s best central Vietnamese restaurants — Hue Oi in Fountain Valley — and has followed that up with Pho Hue Oi.
Phở ($7.50 - $10.50) features a well-balanced beef broth that isn’t overpowered with cinnamon or star anise. Instead, beef bones, beef brisket, tendon, flank, cloves, star anise, dried licorice, onions, cinnamon, ginger, dried nutmeg, and chicken powder bouillon all simmer overnight in a huge pot for about 13 hours, rounding out all the edges.
The bowl also contains a generous serving of rice noodles, thin-shaved white onions, scallions, and cilantro for classic Vietnamese beef soup. As expected, it’s served with a side of bean sprouts, basil, jalapeño, and lemon (normally lime). Choose three proteins from a list that includes well-done brisket (chín), collagen-rich tendon (gaân), flank (naïm), beef meat balls (boø vieân) and filet mignon (a $1 supplement).
Bún bò Huế đặc biệt ($9.95) is a Huế-style soup crafted from pork and beef bones, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and lemongrass that cooks low and slow for eight hours. This broth is spicier, with more funk and umami, loaded with tender beef shank, chewy bone-in pork hock, firm pork meatballs, and congealed blood pudding cubes. It’s then completed with rice vermicelli, cabbage, bean sprouts, cucumbers, cilantro, and mint leaves. The selection of garnishes is more limited than in some Vietnamese restaurants, skipping greens like basil, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), and ngò gai (sawtooth herb, aka culantro).
The Duong family — chef Linh Duong and chef/wife Vinh Le — ran a popular restaurant in their hometown of Huế in the 1980s before relocating to Southern California. It took almost two decades for the couple to find their footing, at which point they opened Hue Oi in 2011 with son Long Duong (an Art Institutes Culinary Arts graduate), daughter Thuy, and daughter Ny. They started in Garden Grove and relocated to a larger Fountain Valley space.
Last November, the family expanded to Redondo Beach with a stylish location boasting reclaimed wood walls, black and white Vietnam photos, and red cushioned banquettes.
Son-in-law Dao Tran, who’s married to Ny Duong, grew up in the South Bay and runs a chiropractic practice in the area. He found the strip mall location while taking a lunch break. Tran said, “I always felt that there were a lack of good authentic Vietnamese restaurants with a more modern setting, ambiance, and service so what more perfect way than to bring that concept and idea to the South Bay.” They also noticed a big customer base from the South Bay at their original on Little Saigon’s south side.
The Redondo Beach outpost is much smaller (about 40 seats versus 100 in Fountain Valley). In some ways, that limited offerings to popular Huế-style dishes like vermicelli bowls (bún) and rice plates (côm). That said, they’ve increased focus on phở, bánh mì, and tea drinks. Thuy’s husband Kenneth Nguyen, who grew up in Vung Tau, handles front of house duties.
Bánh bèo chén ($8.95) is the standout appetizer featuring a dozen bouncy steamed rice cakes topped with ground shrimp, green onions, fried shallots, and crispy pork rinds. Drizzle on some chile-infused fish-sauce based nước chấm and run a spoon around the base of each cake to pry it from each plate.
Cánh gà chiên nước mắm ($7.95) stars six juicy, expertly fried chicken wings marinated with fish sauce, ground red pepper, and garlic. Flavor penetrates all the way to the bone.
Mì tôi tôm nùong ($14.50) features a substantial serving of pungent garlic noodles topped with grilled tiger prawns, or if one prefers, filet mignon. Tré ($2.95) is the only dish that didn’t hit the mark, a loose, casing-free spicy pork sausage made from sliced pork nose, ear, skin, beef, and galangal that was on the chewier/grittier side of the texture spectrum.
The best bet among rice plates is côm đặc biệt ($10.50), a combination of grilled chicken breast, thin-sliced pork, and shrimp that are all marinated with lemongrass, honey, and fish sauce. Proteins are grilled until caramelized and plated with a fried egg perched on a dome of steamed white rice with a side salad and pickled strands of carrot and daikon.
Vietnamese food fans have found the need to trek to Little Saigon or SGV for their fix of regional dishes. With Pho Hue Oi, Westsiders can now make an easy trip south to Redondo Beach while South Bay denizens just have a short drive for some of the most compelling Vietnamese food in the LA area.
Pho Hue Oi, 4051 Inglewood Ave., Redondo Beach, 310.263.1123, www.hueoivietnamesecuisine.com