When it comes to Nem Nuong Cuon (Grill Pork Patty Rolls) in OC’s Little Saigon, most people know that Brodard is THE place to go. Unfortunately, since this is the case, anyone who goes knows that the wait is absolutely horrendous. It’s ALWAYS crowded and there’s a guaranteed wait no matter what time of the day. It’s rather annoying! As a result, my family tends to stay away and we go to Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa to get our fix for these tasty versions of Vietnamese spring rolls.
The restaurant is not very big, and when it does get crowded, it can feel a little cramped. However, in most Little Saigon restaurants, it’s really more about the food than about the ambiance. So I never expect too much when it comes to that aspect of any restaurant. As long as it’s clean, and this one is, I give it a pass on that rating.
These little cup-shaped rice cakes are crispy fried on the outside, soft on the inside and filled with minced dried shrimp and scallions. I like the crunchiness of the outer cake, but by itself, it’s a little bit bland, so you have to be sure to dip them in some fish sauce based dipping sauce (nuoc mam) which really gives life to the Banh Khot.
At this restaurant, you actually have the option of having the individual ingredients brought to the table so that you can wrap the rolls yourself. Although this sounds fun a la shabu shabu and fondue, I really prefer having them take care of all that in the kitchen. What really makes this dish is the orange-colored dipping sauce that you dunk the roll in. I’m not totally sure how to describe this sauce, but it has a little bit of sweetness and spiciness and seems to have some egg and ground meat. Brodard’s version is by far the best that I have tasted. In fact, the Brodard sauce is so special that the recipe is only kept within the female members of the family. All the male members, especially those that marry into the family are kept in the dark. Sauce aside, when it comes to the actual roll itself, Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa does a pretty good job. The grilled pork patty has a deeper flavor and the rolls have a nice mix of lettuce, cucumbers, mint and my favorite ingredient, the deep-fried egg roll wrapper (which gives the roll a hot and crispy crunch). Overall, the rolls really brings a balance of all the food groups.
This was the first time I had tried the Chao Tom Cuon which is similar to the Nem Nuong Cuon except instead of grilled pork, there is a grilled shrimp cake. I thought it was quite tasty as well although it doesn’t seem to have as much of a grilled flavor as the Nem Nuong. I like grilled shrimp cake in general as it is usually served on a sugar cane stick, but if I had to choose, I would probably still go with the Nem Nuong. These rolls also come served with the same orange sauce.
I’ve eaten the Pho Ap Chao at other places before, but I surprisingly enjoyed this particular preparation because the noodles were deep-fried like a rice cake. Considering it probably isn’t one of their specialties, the sauce tasted quite delectable. The seafood and vegetables were all well-cooked and balanced the dish nicely.
All in all, I always like coming here for lunch, because the food is so delicious yet distinctly healthy at the same time. The rolls are meaty and tasty but pack a lot of fresh vegetables that does the body good. I could probably eat 4 rolls and feel totally full and satisfied, but I usually mix it up with some of the other dishes. The prices are super reasonable and there is rarely a wait as one would normally find at Brodard. Seriously, the crowd at Brodard is terribly annoying. However, the special dipping sauce from Brodard can’t be beaten, but I would happily come here any day to satisfy my craving for Nem Nuong Cuon.
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
9738 Westminster Ave. Suite 102
Garden Grove, CA 92844
PAFO Ratings for Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa:
Ambiance 2½ stars
Food 3½ stars
Overall rating 3½ stars