What: salty vietnam
Or: 2200 Alameda Ave West
When: Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
For more information: Visit savouryvietnam.com
The place: January 1st, In 2019, King’s Land, a longtime dim sum favorite, closed and just three days later the space reopened with a new sign reading “Savory Vietnam”. Although the interior hasn’t changed much, the menu has, thanks to An Nguyen, the daughter of New Saigon founders Ha Pham and Thai Nguyen.
An’s parents sold the family restaurant in 2017, but she wasn’t quite ready to take the reins at the time – she had recently had a baby and wanted to focus on her family. But by the time King’s Land went up for sale, she had already planned her return to cooking.
The Savory Vietnam is located in the Pacific Ocean Marketplace shopping center near Alameda Avenue. A new divider blocks the view of much of the large dining room, helping to give the place a less cavernous feel – but you’re not really here for the atmosphere. The service is very businesslike, albeit friendly, and the decor is forgettable. But the food is definitely not.
What you are eating : The first thing to know about the meals here is that they are best enjoyed in a group, as the sheer number of options might leave your brain spinning if you try to choose just one thing to taste. Bowls of noodles, plates of rice, fire pots, crab, clams, mussels… the categories go on and on.
But there is one item that I order every time I visit: the rice papers. Available in twenty options – yes, twenty – your choice of protein (or one of the combinations) is presented on a platter over rice noodles, with chopped peanuts, scallions and fried onions on top. On my last visit, we went with a combo of beef, pork, shrimp and fried shrimp paste ($29.95), cut into perfectly sized strips.
A basket full of fresh vegetables including cucumber, carrot, lettuce and bean sprouts, along with herbs, is served alongside, as is a lightly sweet dip. A semi-circle shaped rack comes with the wraps and hot water to soften them. Rotate your wrap around so the whole thing takes a quick dip, then get to work building your roll. Lay in a few noodles, a few pieces of meat, maybe a few sprigs of cilantro and a slice of carrot – just beware of overfilling, which can lead to a torn wrapper later.
Once everything is tucked inside, fold over the top and bottom of the paper and roll it up tightly; experience with burritos (or joints) helps here. The tray is big enough for four or five people to make a few wraps each – or big enough for a party of three to take home a respectable amount of leftovers.
Besides the wraps, I tried something new each visit and only browsed a fraction of the menu. The Salty Fish Fried Rice ($13.95) is simply flavored with a bit of crunch, thanks to the canned fish bits studded throughout. A seafood take on the wide and fluffy hu tieu noodles ($17.95) includes shrimp, scallops, squid and mussels almost as long as my hand, all bathed in a light but tasty oyster sauce .
Then there’s the sweet and sour pineapple soup, the caramelized pork spare ribs with a sweet and salty fish sauce, the clams in a black peppercorn sauce with butter and garlic, a whole sea bass fried with ginger sauce. The meals I’ve had here have all blended together in a haze of sweet, savory, and umami flavors, and I’ve yet to be disappointed with anything that lands on the table.
So don’t get overwhelmed by the choices. But plan to visit more than once.