Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nongla Cafe: Soul Soothing Vietnamese on Sawtelle

One of my favorite things about getting to work in West LA this year are the fantastic lunch options - having just come from Burbank, I was in absolute heaven.  Especially to be so near to Sawtelle Blvd, which has continued to expand its diversified Asian offerings beyond Japanese.

A Vietnamese place that has become a favorite for me is Nongla Cafe - I know I can always rely on them for good, clean, soul-soothing noodle soups. It's received some flak for not being completely authentic - but it makes a lot of sense from a business perspecitve - afterall, part of having good business sense is knowing your audience - and on the Westside, people are adventurous 'to a point'.  Office workers close by may consider themselves fans or even knowledgeable food lovers of ethnic cuisine, but they don't necessarily want to go 'full fear factor' during their lunch break.  All things considered, it's fantastic to have their version of classic Vietnamese dishes so accessible - of course you can get more 'authentic' versions in the SGV, but if you work in West LA and only have an hour for lunch, where else are you going to go to get a good bowl of pho or bun bo hue?!

So, while the Bun Bo Hue here doesn't have any pigs blood or pork knuckles - it is a perfect balance of layered, complex yet light and clean flavors: fragrant lemongrass beef soup served with vermicelli noodles, pork patty and beef, topped with red onions, green onions and cilantro.  I get this 'mild'ly spicy as I belong to that group that can't handle my spice (and disclaimer: I haven't had a lot of Bun Bo Hue before so I don't really have any good frame of reference).  But I do love that everything tastes super fresh, addictively delicious here and healthy as a bonus benefit with no MSG.

Chicken Pho - free range chicken and noodles in chicken broth.  This is my coworker Mims' favorite - again clean, light and beautifully complex flavors, simply served.   
 
Nongla also offers Vietnamese spring rolls, bahn mi (sandwiches) and rice dishes, which we haven't even gotten to yet since we love the noodle soups above so much and it comes in generous portions which arevery filling for lunch. 

As for the decor in the restaurant - it is also clean and modern, with counter as well as table seating inside and on the patio.  It does get airly crowded at lunch so service can be spotty just due to the limited staff trying to keep up with all the tables.  (Including all the spillover from Tsujita - those who can't stand the long wait there often opt for Nongla instead) They are super friendly and obviously trying their best though - and the whole space has a very cozy neighborhood vibe.

East Coast transplants often say they miss distinct seasons and varied weather - and I usually beg to differ. Beautiful weather most of the year is the way I like it.  But, Nongla's noodle soups almost make me welcome rainy days, just for yet another reason for a return visit.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% 
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Nongla

2055 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles,CA 90025
Ph: 310.268.1881

Parking: free valet on Mississipi Ave.

Website: Nonglacafe.com
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Nong La Cafe on Urbanspoon

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