Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mien Nghia, Chinatown Los Angeles - Heaven In A Bowl

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For a while, I lost hope in finding the right Chiu Chow noodle shop in Los Angeles. My dad first introduced to me what is still now, my most favorite noodle shop - Trieu Chau Restaurant in Santa Ana located on Newhope/First St. This place only opens till 5 pm but usually has a line out the door. I don't want to gross anyone out with an experience I had here, but... ah what the hell. The food is so worth it, that I'd still come back. Caveat #1. Trieu Chau Restaurant is so packed that the practice of joining 2 parties into 1 table is all too common. I once got hooked up with a grandpa and grandma. We didn't say a word to each other as we happily slurped our noodles and soup. Until... grandma busts out her NAILCLIPPERS. Ok, I thought, that's fine, she's going to clip her fingernails. Then without notice of me, she props her food onto her chair and starts clipping away.... laying her finely incised TOENAILS onto a napkin which was already sharing real estate with a duck bone she had cleaned out. Even a National Geographic archaeologist would find it hard to carbon-14 that bone b/c it was devoid of any bone marrow. Check please. Caveat #2. I once took my friends here and as we happily slurped our noodles and soup. We all peered at the ceiling at what looked to be a neon orange cylinder with tons of black dots. Hey that's kinda nice, something you know, festive and shiny and bright. One might think it's an air freshener adorned with black crystals. We were far off the target. They were FLIES. But you know what, we could give a sh*t. The food was too good.

Anyway, it's been a good 5 years since I've eaten at TCR. All the places I've tried in Chinatown just didn't cut it. Then came along my friend Jéan Downs who emerged out of nowhere as a foodie with a strong opinion. I like that. After threatening to squash my head in a vise, he forced me try this place in Chinatown called Mien Nghia. "Meen Yee" in cantonese. Ok Ok. And boy do I owe a lot to Jéan Downs. In about two months, I've eaten here nearly 10 times and have not been disappointed. Just last week, hehe, 4 times!

Commuting from Silverlake to work, Chinatown is always a nice stopover for take-out lunch. I'd usually hit up the roach coach on Alpine for their banh cuon (pork/mushroom rice crepes) or banh mi's (sandwiches). And when I'm hungover, I'll require some soup to quell the thirst at Pho 97 or Chiu Heng. What a coincidence... my first time at Mien Nghia occurred after a wild night of drinking. Soup, my stomach says... soup.

I walked into Mien Nghia, which is next to a sandwich shop called My Dung. I know I know, it's not how it's read in English. It's pronounced "Mee Yung" in Vietnamese... but you have to just step back for a minute and smile. I was greeted and immediately seated. I love asian restaurants. For some reason, unless you're a non-asian or a gwai-lo, you're expected to know what you want even before you even sit down. Menu please... the waiter stares at me and turns for the menu.

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That guy in the Miami Dolphins turquoise polo is funny.

Anyway, here's what I had over a period of 5 visits. And let me tell you, Mien Nghia makes a quality broth. Every sip is good. A tip for those that come here. You'll notice that there is a dark chili oil sauce... it's not really hot sauce. It's chiu chow style satay bbq sauce... similar to what Chinese use for hot pot dip. A lot of asian noodle restaurants will wing the broth by using water and chicken bouillon powder (Knorr). It tastes chickeny but it just doesn't have that weight, volume to it. Know what I mean? There's a difference between good pho broth and half-ass broth. You know who's dealing the real sh*t and who's dealing the schwag. Snoop would say that they are dealing the chronic here.

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Chicken and Fish Slice Egg/Rice Noodles $6.75
I am blowing up this photo and framing it in my living room. Makes me want to jump at it. The chicken is very moist and flavorful. The fish pieces are coated with a starch mix to give it that nice texture created from blanching the meat. And nothing says cherry on top of an ice cream sundae like fried shallots. This soup is nice but again, the addition of the satay bbq sauce really adds a nice taste to it. My stubborn sister refused to use the sauce but was happy once I dumped it into her bowl. This is my favorite here. The prices are higher than normal noodle shops but I think Mien Nghia really gives you a good amount of food. I'm stuffed every time I eat here. J could barely finish her bowl.

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Beef Stew Egg/Rice Noodles $7.25
At a Chiu Chow restaurant, you'll notice the menu has Chinese, Cambodian and Vietnamese writing. Historically, Chiu Chow people travel wherever there is work and they bring their food with them. Much like the food trade in Hawaii done by Japanese, Chinese and Koreans... the same theory applies. You bring your food and offer people. Which is why you get the Vietnamese beef stew known as 'bo kho'. This is my 2nd favorite dish. It's reallly heavy and hearty but it really satisfies you. The beef shank/brisket/tendon slices are super tender and the soup is made with the right amount of tomato paste and cinnamon/anise/coriander. Mmmmm.

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Beef Ribs with Egg/Rice Noodles $6.50
Don't order this. The broth and sauce are strange. I don't know what else to say it, but I'm putting some orange cones around this. You're better off getting a sandwich next door at My Dung.

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Seafood Egg/Rice Noodles $6.75
My sister and dad ordered this. Whenever they go to a Chiu Chow restaurant, they have to eat the seafood bowl. This was taken at the Rosemead location (Mien Nghia has 3 locations). On top is a piece of shrimp fried along with a wonton skin. I didn't try this but they said it was good. My sister was unhappy until I dumped a tablespoon of satay bbq sauce in here. Sauce makes people happy. My family loved this.

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Wonton Egg/Rice Noodles $5.75
No matter where I go, even Wonton Time, can't beat the real Hong Kong wonton. I ordered this with the owner's recommendation, who is very sweet and talkative. I didn't have the heart to tell her.... "I want my f*cking money back!" What they referred to as wontons was merely a small lump of ground pork blanketed by wonton skin. No texture, no taste, no stellar bite you get from a HK wonton. Caltrans.... please put some orange cones around this please.

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Fishcake
Yes, I know the term is quite frightening, just as shrimpcake is. Sara Lee and Entenmann's would never produce this freak of nature, but let me tell you, it's wonderful. Fish is pureed and flavored with fish sauce and sugar. It's then boiled or steamed and then deep fried to create that nice 'crust'. I substituted the fish slices for these. My favorite. In Hong Kong, I'd buy a pound of this fishcake block for like $7 and devour it with beer.

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Egg & Rice Noodles = Yin & Yang
You'll notice that every dish I ate has the egg & rice noodle mix. It's a Vietnamese & Chiu Chow thing - they can't decide whether or not they want egg or rice noodles... smart, ask for both!

Overall, I love this joint. Although the soup is very tasty, it's not that signature Chiu Chow broth which is made with fried garlic/shallots, pork/fish/chicken bones and I think daikon (for sweetness). I have to crown Mien Nghia with the true Noodle Whore crown. Everything on the menu is noodles. I couldn't be more happy about that. Try it out when you can. By no means, a comparison to pho or Chinese beef noodle soup... but this is big for Southeast Asians. Thanks for reading. Oh yeah, MasterCash only.

Mien Nghia - Chinatown
304 Ord St
Los Angeles, CA, 90012
(213) 680-2411

Mien Nghia - Rosemead
7755 Garvey Ave
Rosemead, CA, 91770
(626) 288-0177

Mien Nghia - San Gabriel
406 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA, 91776
(626) 570-1668

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