02/01/2017 – Sadly, Hong Hai has been sold and is under new management. A relative bought the garlic butter chicken wings for our recent party and it was not good! It seems they kept the menu very similar but the previous owners must’ve taken their secret recipes with them. I cannot recommend this place at this time.
Breaking away from the typical hole-in-the-wall authentic Vietnamese restaurant available in nearby Little Saigon, I’m going to make a big statement that Hong Hai restaurant is probably my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Orange County. Little Saigon has lots of restaurants that may be better at one thing or another, you have to know where to go, and Hong Hai is great for when the family can’t really agree on what to eat and they want a good variety of tasty food. It may cost a tad more because it’s in Fountain Valley, it’s modern, it’s clean, and a little bit more upper class than many of the ones in Little Saigon where you can get pho for 50% off every day and the waiter is at your table in the first five minutes of sitting down, they have your food for you in the next 10 minutes, and after that, you don’t see them again until you go up to the counter and pay your bill. This brings up the subject of tipping, as many Vietnamese will tend to go cheap and tip between 10%-15% max, perhaps because they feel like they weren’t really serviced, but on the other hand, perhaps the wait staff always feels cheated so they don’t really bother to check on you much.
OK, but enough about that. One of these days, I will blog about Little Saigon block by block, covering the street that I believe to be the main artery of the area. But for now, on to the food!
Every Vietnamese restaurant keeps condiments at the table. Hong Hai has nice condiments kept in very clean containers. The two bottles that look like ketchup and syrup are both meant for the famous pho (sounds like “fuh”) noodle soup that Vietnamese like to eat. One is hoisin sauce and the other is a mild hot sauce which is usually Sriracha (mild only if you don’t dump a lot of it in your soup). There are also the other chili sauces that are in the cute covered bowls.
Here’s the pho, rare beef, usually cooked in the hot broth and not so rare by the time you eat it. It’s better with the bean sprouts and mint leaves added, and a little dash of lime, hoisin and hot sauce.
They have some good drinks. Usually, I drink tea or water. We did try the passion fruit soda and it was delicious, a little tangy, sour and sweet.
The bun (pronounced with a long u sound, not short u like hamburger bun, but like boon, with a lilt and a bounce when pronouncing) is served in a slanted bowl, with some lettuce hidden beneath, and the nuoc mam on the side. Don’t dump the whole thing into your vermicelli unless you love this stuff, I sometimes forget and end up with my food swimming in it and very strong fish breath! This bun had beef cooked with a little bit of lemongrass and green onions, egg rolls, and grilled shrimp.
The house special rice dish is similar to the bun, except with rice instead of vermicelli. I ordered pork and the pork was cooked similar to the beef, I’m sure I tasted a little bit of lemongrass in it, which I like. The salad had a very light vinegar dressing and yes, I poured that nuoc mam into my rice because it gives it more flavor!
Their spring rolls are fat! They have pork and shrimp in them, and are served with a hoisin dipping sauce with crushed peanuts.
I saved my favorite for last! I don’t know exactly how they cook this, it’s a secret recipe, but the butter garlic chicken is my favorite dish and I confess, I had it three times in one week! OK, it was actually half a serving three times since I was splitting it with Audrey, but still, I was addicted. The skin is light and crispy, and the fried garlic and onion really fits well with the chicken. I mean, look at the close-up, you can just tell it’s good!
It’s a bit dim in the restaurant so the pictures are not too clear, but here are some of their menu pages.