We started this blog aiming to find overlooked little places and cheap food we might have ignored otherwise. It can be a little overwhelming heading into the San Gabriel Valley with that as your only goal, but it's rich in source material. Saigon Eden, a Vietnamese restaurant in Alhambra, fit the bill perfectly. It's insanely cheap--two non-alcoholic drinks, a giant appetizer, and two entrées cost less than $30. And the meal came with a complimentary dessert. The restaurant is cute and cozy and the food is homey. Most of the SGV restaurants we go to are divey, but they serve serious cuisine. Saigon Eden does not. It's the Vietnamese version of the diner around the corner from your house--it's fast, cheap, it hits the spot, and you go there all the time.
First off, the atmosphere is wonderful. We've gotten pretty accustomed to packed little dining rooms and haphazard decor, but whoever designed Saigon Eden actually knew what they were doing. The brightly-colored fairy lights outside, warm interior, sturdy wood tables and chairs (instead of the usual laminated conference room furniture), and awesome-weird waterfall things inside really made it a lovely place to have a meal. The menus were expansive, with soups, noodles, curries, and all a whole slew of Vietnamese drinks. Guided by an insatiable desire for egg rolls and the little pictures next to menu items (they really help!), we set out to make some tough choices.
They are egg rolls, more or less. These guys had perfectly crunchy, not oily, deep fried rice paper wrappers, and filled with ground pork, shredded carrot, and wood ear mushrooms. Chả giò are finger food. We wrapped the rolls in a lettuce leaf, garnished them with Thai basil and some other aromatic in the mint family that we could not identify, then added pickled carrots and daikon and sliced cucumbers. Then we dunked the whole shebang in nước chấm, the traditional sweet, sour, salty, and spicy dipping sauce*. The filling wasn't anything to write home about, though the texture was perfectly nice, but the combination of all the things was great. The dish is satisfyingly fatty, but not overwhelmingly so due to the lettuce and aromatics, while the pickles and sauce punch up the flavor. Note to the dainty and polite: You will have sticky sauce all over you after eating these. Embrace it.