A new nem nuong cuon contender for the L.A. Times:
PHOTO by MARIAH TAUGER / L.A. TIMES
In the hyperspecialized kitchens of Little Saigon, where dining by dac biet (a restaurant’s prescribed list of house specialties) is almost a moral obligation, nem nuong cuon is a matter of contention. For every dozen batches of slack, sloppy spring rolls, there are a few that approach brilliance: ruddy pork patties branded by the grill, cucumber spears that snap with farmers-market freshness, dipping sauces derived from equal parts recipe and alchemy.
Consensus has long steered the spring roll-obsessed to Brodard. It’s the restaurant that transformed nem nuong cuon from craving to commodity, an immense place so popular that it staffs an entire assembly line to construct those sheer, swollen rolls. But a newcomer has all but unseated Brodard.
Dat Thanh operates on a much smaller scale. Its tiny, well-kept dining room is so compact it seems a mere outgrowth of the kitchen, as if each seat were arrayed around a chef’s table. The 4-month-old restaurant runs in the family: Hai Nguyen, affable and gracious, mans the front while his parents, who hail from a village near Vung Tau on Vietnam’s southern coast, stick to the stoves. The Nguyens previously owned a larger, otherwise identical restaurant in Little Saigon before selling it six years ago.
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