Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thanh De Nhat Com Tam Restaurant - Westminster

I have a friend named Mike (who among us doesn't have a friend named Mike). Although his life doesn't revolve around food as much as mine does (read: he's not a food blogger), our tastes are often parallel. It was more than a decade ago (in college) that he tipped me off to Alerto's fish burrito; something I've been enjoying ever since. So if he likes something, I will too.

There is one point of contention where our opinions diverge: the guy despises anything burnt, scorched, or charred. He'd rather not see grill marks on his chicken breasts or on his burgers. And those bits of carbonized sauce on the ends of barbecued ribs? It tastes like grit to him, the equivalent of getting sand in his food.

Me? I think of it as extra flavor (oh-so-yummy carcinogens!!). A steak can be juicy, but it's not as good as it could be if there isn't just a little bit of crust and char.

Recently, Mike moved back to Orange County from The Valley, in search of milder climates, better opportunities, and of course, food. Since then, my itinerant dining companions and I have been re-acclimating him to the wonders of our cuisine. But after a whirlwind tour that stretched from our southern coasts to Fullerton, it was Mike who had a place to show us -- a Little Saigon hole-in-the-wall he liked when he lived here all those years ago.

It was located at the corner of a strip mall that's a mirror image of every other strip mall on Bolsa Street. But on that Friday night, the scene inside was like a sped-up, time-lapse film sequence of Time Square at rush hour -- busy with action and noise. Servers with armfuls of plates weaving between tables. People shoving rice and meat into their gullets. Customers coming and going.

In the middle of it all are ample meals of com tam, the Vietnamese broken rice dish topped with assortments of protein, accompanied by fish sauce for dousing and a bowl of hot broth for sipping.

With a napkin, I wiped my utensils clean (taken from a communal bucket on each table), getting it ready for my rice-and-meat combo. I had ordered com tam with a grilled pork chop as its anchor, surrounded by satellites of protein which included tau hu ky (shrimp paste deep-fried beneath a tofu skin wrapper), cha (ground pork steamed with egg) and Chinese sausage. To make it complete (and just because I can), I asked for a side of fried egg.

Though I would've preferred fresh tomato and cucumbers over the pickled cabbage they served as palate cleansers, it was refreshing. With the exception of the tau hu ky -- which was too heavy, too dense and too rubbery when compared to others I've had before -- I liked the meal. The pork chop had the requisite charring I demand, the Chinese sausage can do no wrong, and the cha tasted like homemade.

It wasn't until I looked over at what Mike was having that it occurred to me why he brought us here. His order of Vietnamese BBQ pork (thit nuong) was unlike any BBQ pork I'd ever seen. In fact, if the menu didn't call it that, I would have guessed it was boiled (sorry, no picture).

As pallid as present-day Michael Jackson, each ultra-lean, thin flap of meat had no trace of charring or browning. Curious, I asked for a sample. It tasted well-marinated -- full of flavor, not too salty. It was also tender enough that it almost dissolved. Yet I couldn't shake the fact that there was something inherently missing.

But Mike, he loved it. When he finished the plate, there wasn't a single grain of rice left.

Thanh De Nhat Com Tam Restaurant
(714) 531-3888
9870 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, CA 92683

Blackmarket Bakery - Irvine


At 11:14 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...


Awesome! I love that pork dish and have had it at many places. BUt your photos show some unique accompanyments that make me want to try this place you featured. I wonder if this place is open late a night?

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Constance said...

Elmomonster - Good Sunday evening to you !

Never been to T.D.N.C.T. - but Mike has always been one of my favorite names :)



Have you eaten breakfast or lunch at Ramos House in San Juan Capistrano ? Yummm. And no, I'm not related to the owner, nor do I work there (lol). I'd love to read your review of it.

Hears a rumor last week that David Wilheim (sp?) of Culinary Adventures - French 75, etc. declared Chapter 11...

And did Rendezvous in San Juan close ? Too bad, they had great chilled avocado soup !

Loving Annie

At 6:37 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Reminds me of my fave place Com Tam Tran Quy Cap on Harbor, next to Lee's Sandwich. Their thit nuong is THE best I have had so far, but your friend Mike wouldn't like it, as it has the loverly char-ness!! Wish I could find a banh mi place that had this stuff for sandwiches. Also thier fried shrimp cake is pretty light & dreamy too.
Will have to check this place out with my Wednesday Lunchtime Foodie group! And add an egg!

At 7:22 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - For some reason I'm mesmerized by that egg....

At 7:38 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Diamond Dog,

Judging from their website (probably outdated), they open from 9AM-9PM. Actually the accompaniments are pretty standard. And again, although my friend Mike loved the BBQ pork, I prefer a little more color and char. What you have to decide is whether you're like Mike, or whether you're like me! Here's the website for this restaurant.


I've always wanted to go to Ramos House, but never got around to it. Thanks for the reminder.

And yes! Not only is it not a rumor (they did file bankruptcy), Wilhelm actually stepped down from Culinary Adventures. Ironically, Wilhelm's Chophouse was the first one to go on the chopping block!

I'm so glad Stonehill's still good! And I've only made that one visit to Stonehill. Otherwise it's also Chapter 11 for the elmomonster!


High five! Com Tam Tran Quy Cap on Harbor is also my favorite and for exactly the same reasons you state! The tau hu ky being number one. It's so freakin' light, it's almost weightless. And yep, all the stuff from the grill has yummy, crunchy bits of char. And funny enough, Mike didn't like it as much as he liked Thanh De Nhat. Though T.D.N. is cheaper by a few bucks.

Here's the review I did on Com Tam Tran Quy Cap.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


The egg does seem to say "Eat me! Eat me! You know you want to!"

And I did!

At 8:32 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

^5 back at you - your write up at OCW was what got my butt over there in the first place, am am glad I did!
By the way, they now accept credit cards.

At 6:54 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Cool! I'm so glad they're getting some business. And enough business to get a credit card machine. When I first visited, the place was so empty it echoed.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Yes, I get in there about once every two weeks, and they are jumpin' most days, lots of larger "lunch groups" and family meals being served.
The place that needs some pumping up is the great Naz Kabob aross the street! Been there twice & the only customer both times - & the food is great!

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I've been to this place before the new owner took it over. I thought it was the best I had but ever since the new owner I think it is ok. I feel the steams eggs do not come out hot and egg white is too runny and it is a sin to order com tam without an egg ;-)

At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with you, elmo. If something is bbq'd I must see grill marks on it. I love burned and charred bits. If I'm bbq-ing something myself, I feel like such a failure if I can't get those grill marks on it.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Constance said...

Just e-mailed you.

Did you get some hits from the link I left on my blog post ("a good weekend, family style") about your blog earlier this week ?

Hope you are having a delicious food week.

At 4:48 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Gustavo's got Naz all covered! He did an article on them -- and where he goes, everyone follows.


I had to order the fried egg separately. But yeah, so good! Anything is made better with a nice fried egg.


Yup. Char = done! I even eat the crispy bits stuck on the grill or griddle. So tasty! So cancer-y!


Yes I did! Thank you! I've added you as a link on my sidebar! I like your blog. Clean design, fun topics! Keep at it.

At 8:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had never eat something like that, because the meal they prepared me had a egg over the rest of food, first I thought it was disgusting but after that I realized about the incredible flavor that had.


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