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Little Saigon

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excellent

Last visited: #of visits: Cost: Where? What to Get What to Skip
7/07 bazillions Moderate Terminal Square
113 Fairfield Ave
Upper Darby, PA 19082
(610) 352-1002
Spring Rolls, Pork Wonton Noodle Soup, Hue Soup, Beef Cubes with Garlic Sauce, anything nothing

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Spring RollsStuck out on a corner of Upper Darby's Terminal Square, it's easy to miss this small, unobtrusive, but excellent place. As one might guess from the name Little Saigon, this is traditional Vietnamese food, featuring fantastic soups, springrolls and stir-fries.

I feel that I must disclose that I have been to this place a million times, and I have friends who go almost daily, and so we have gotten friendly with the folks at the restaurant, including the owner. Nonetheless, I think that I can be fair, and the rave review to follow is based on the food, not just because they are really nice people.

It's hard to go wrong here, I don't think I have gotten anything I didn't like. If you are squeamish about things like tripe or beef tendon, just be careful about which Pho soup you get. And if you want some zing and spice, don't just order chicken with broccoli. It's good, but not as thrilling as, say, chicken curry, or chicken with lemongrass.

Start with soup. Vietnamese places are rightly famous for their meal-in-a-bowl soups called Pho. They make several varieties here, all quite large, with mounds of slippery rice noodles, intense broth, vegetables and paper-thin slices of raw beef that cooks in the hot stock. You can get the above-mentioned tripe or tendon if you want to be traditional, but for the uninitiated, the basic beef soup might be safer. These soups come with bean sprouts, basil and other accompaniments: you can add as much as you like.

Bun Bo HueThe Pho here is pretty good, but what sets Little Saigon apart is the quality of the other soups. The roast pork wonton noodle soup, often just an afterthought in other restaurants, is sublime. The broth is delicate and intense, much more complex than any other version I've had. The spicy beef soup from Hue (Bun Bo Hue) has the same rice noodles as the Pho, but with a peppery, reddish broth and pieces of beef. It's unique, and delicious. The sweet-and-sour fish soup features a large fillet of white fish, and unexpected chunks of pineapple.

Springrolls are especially good, the best in the city, maybe beyond. The outside has a bubbly, cracked texture that makes them perhaps a bit more oily than those at some other restaurants, but in a delicious way. After having these, I'm a bit bored with the smooth, greaseless versions you get some places. They are packed full of ground pork and vegetables, and come with a good thin sweet dipping sauce. If you are feeling the need to be a bit more virtuous, try the vegetable-filled, unfried "Summer Rolls". These are served cool, and the soft, fresh wrappers and crunchy vegetables are refreshing at any time of the year.

There is a long list of entrees that are, as is the case in many Vietnamese places, variations on the "meat, vegetables, oyster sauce and some added twist" pattern (about $7). So the Chicken and Broccoli, Chicken with Lemon Grass, Chicken with Ginger, and Chicken Curry all look pretty much the same, and have the same basic foundation, and to be honest they are all similar in flavor, but the lemongrass, or ginger, or whatever, make each one distinctive and tasty. These might not be worth a special trip, but are good, basic dishes.

Pork CurryI particularly like the Chicken Lemongrass or the Chicken Curry with its chopped peanuts on top. Of course you can get these dishes with just vegetables, or with, beef, or pork, or shrimp.

But perhaps the best thing on the menu is the Beef Cubes in Garlic Sauce. It is more expensive than most of the other entrees (about $10) and worth every penny. Tender cubes of Filet Mignon are joined by chunks of onion and peppers in a thin, flavorful garlic sauce, perhaps more of a dressing than a sauce. At recent visits ADP has gotten a version of this with that filet mignon and snowpeas in the garlicky sauce, and it's one of the best dishes I've had in some time.

There are good Mussels in a rich curry-like sauce, hot pots rich with various seafood, meats and vegetables, and my favorite for a quick lunch: a bowl of rice vermicelli with grilled meat and/or springrolls.

For desert, I like to just get a Vietnamese iced coffee. Intense, dark-roasted coffee is poured into a tall glass full of ice. Sweet condensed milk is added, making this as rich as a chocolate milkshake. If you are avoiding caffeine, try a Jackfruit drink.

Two people can eat a lot of food for $30. There are lots of lunch specials for about $5. There is no liquor license, but you may bring your own wine or beer. It's a small place, and it can fill up on weekend nights, but it's worth a wait. Whatver you do, remember to get soup, and springrolls!

 

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