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Dining review: A touch of Saigon

Mama Hong's Vietnamese Kitchen in Burbank serves up pho, banh mi and pork chops.

August 18, 2012|By Rebecca Bryant
  • A beef Banh Mi sandwich on a toasted French roll with pickled carrots and radish, cucumber spears and mayonnaise with a Thai iced tea at Mama Hong's in Burbank.
A beef Banh Mi sandwich on a toasted French roll with pickled… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

With its stylized olive-and-black façade and the silhouette of a lone woman in a wide hat standing in the midst of white lettering, Mama Hong's Vietnamese Kitchen stands out on Burbank's San Fernando Boulevard.

Inside, spare décor and clean lines highlight a long, mirrored wall that is strung, ceiling to chair rail, with strands of rope that from a distance almost look like streams of water. The restaurant looks like a lunch joint from chair rail down, and more upscale from chair rail up, like it's wearing a dress shirt and jacket with shorts — giving it a fun, relaxed feel.

The food and attentive service stand out as well. We started with cha gio, egg rolls fried crisp, stuffed with ground pork, glass noodles, eggs, carrots, onions and radishes. The exterior was golden brown and greaseless, the interior a delicious blend of flavors and textures. Nuoc cham dipping sauce added its flavor of lime, fish sauce, garlic and red pepper.

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Goi cuon, spring rolls with shrimp, pork, vermicelli, carrot and green onion, were crisp and fresh, a flavorful salad wrapped in a rice-paper blanket. The brown hoisin peanut dipping sauce was spicy and slightly sweet, but not cloyingly so. Tom cuon chien don, shrimp wrapped in a wonton blanket and deep-fried, were slight but tasty dipped in nuoc cham.

The highlight of the meal, and the reason we'll be back to Mama Hong's, is the banh mi, a Vietnamese baguette sandwich that the restaurant offers for $4.95. The perfect size for lunch, the banh mi comes on a toasted mini French loaf — unbelievably fresh and light, with a perfect crackly crust — with a choice of grilled chicken, pork or beef. We tried the boldly flavored pork — savory, garlicky, with hints of fish sauce and (could it be?) something resembling maple syrup. The meat is topped with crunchy pickled carrots, cucumber slices and daikon radish.

The Vietnamese street food with a French colonial history started when the French brought baguettes to Vietnam. Locals called them banh tay, or foreign cake. The banh mi (wheat cake) started out as a minimalist Parisian-style pate sandwich, one enjoyed by the rich. Then it morphed into a Saigon-style flavor explosion and became all about the meat, served in shops and on the street. Mama Hong's continues that tradition with a delicious and portable take-away meal.

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