Saturday, January 18, 2014

Everybody Loves Golden Deli

We went to the San Gabriel Golden Deli today for lunch. Several people recommended it to us, as well as the entire internet (check out their Yelp! reviews, it's pretty much universally loved). It's a Vietnamese restaurant in a strip mall that looks like this:

All photos personal

True to form, half of San Gabriel turned out at 2pm to get seats. The frantic but determined hostess yelled to us asking if we had tickets while we squeezed in the door like Japanese subway riders. To our initial dismay we received ticket 57 as she called for party 42. Yet somehow we were seated in about 20 minutes, which gave us a nice interval to check out the massive menu. We sat down and had our order taken by a very friendly server immediately and the food teleported to us about 3 minutes after that.

After much sturm and drang, trying to narrow down our options, we ordered:

Phó Tái, phó with rare beef and noodles
For those of you who haven't had phó, it's awesome. It's chicken noodle soup, if the chicken broth is spiced beef broth, the chicken is thinly-sliced raw rib-eye, and the noodles are rice noodles. And there's lots of basil. Golden Deli's rendition was surprising--the broth had a lovely sweet taste from the cinnamon, which melded beautifully with the basil. Nat preferred it before I added the lime, but he's silly. I probably could have eaten the whole bowl, but I knew spring rolls were coming. Looking around, the phó was clearly the most popular item on the menu.

Bánh Mì Thit Chả Lụa, bánh mì with B.B.Q. pork
This picture could have been better. The banh mi totally wasn't burned.

  Bánh Mì is like a Vietnamese sub. It's simple and layered with aromatic goodness. The version we went for sounded like the heaviest with its two varieties of pork but was actually deliciously light. The crusty french loaf was stuffed full of lightly pickled carrots and daikon, with fresh jalapeño and cucumber slices. The pork was a smoky and potent balance; I was happy to not have a heaping portion of it. Everything was perfectly fresh and punchy. I've never thought of sandwiches as refreshing but they're clearly on to something.

Nem Nướng Cuốn, spring roll with meatball

Thit Nướng Cuốn, spring roll with grilled pork

The spring rolls were jampacked with carrot and lettuce and finished off with the meat of choice. The server was kind to dissuade us from the "shredded pork," which is actually pork skin. It's on the list of things to try but props for service. The meatball was actually a sweet, lean, casing-less sausage kind of like kielbasa (less crazy than it sounds). Both rolls were kick-ass and again with the surprisingly light. They came with tasty peanut sauce and a lighter vinegar dip that pulled the whole thing together.

We left feeling full, happy, and not weighed down. Still not sure how they pulled that off. 

Flavor: 4/5
The phó was delightful, homey without being fatty. It was surprising, which is one of the best things that food can be. Cinnamon, with lime, really? Awesome. I would have preferred the noodles on the side. Nobody can finish the giant bowl of soup, and rice noodles will suck up all the broth in no time flat, leaving you with a soggy mess in your fridge.

The Bánh Mì was fantastic but Nat thinks it could have used a little more sauce, spice, or something to set off the flavors. Still a rockstar sandwich by any measure.
Spring rolls were simple and great. What can you say about crispy fresh veggie things, flavorful meat, and finger foods? 

Service: 5/5
Our servers were super-polite and super-humanly fast. Nobody wearing pieces of flair comes around haranguing you about the food but they don't ignore you either. 

Atmosphere: 3/5
It was basic and pretty unadorned. They want to get you in and out fast, though they are polite and don't rush you once you're seated. The line by the door is pretty hectic but they do a good job keeping order. 

Approachability: 5/5
Friendly, English-speaking staff, kindly warnings about pork skin, and delicious everything. No complaints here.

I thought of this category after our original post, but it's a good one:
Pescatarian/Vegetarian/Vegan friendly: 2/5
We're not sure how he did it, but our vegetarian friend successfully ate at Golden Deli and gave it high marks. A lot of the dishes are pretty modular and could be made meat-free pretty easily. However, as written the menu has one vegan dish and a sprinkling of seafood numbers. 

Golden Deli
815 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Mon, Tue, Thu 9:30 am - 9 pm
Fri 9:30 am - 10 pm
Sat 9 am - 10 pm
Sun 9 am - 9:30 pm

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