14092 Magnolia Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
For many people, spring rolls, bánh mì, and phở are all they know when it comes to Vietnamese food. If you have those 3 dishes down, pat yourself on the back because you’ve covered just a small fraction of Vietnamese cuisine. I am, by far, no expert on Vietnamese food. Heck, my mom was born in that country and still discovers new things. Vietnamese food is very regional, and if you’ve never traveled or lived in a every part of the long skinny country, then there’s so much you’re missing out on. On this day, I wanted to have The Annoyer experience the cuisine of Central Vietnam, or Huế. Ngự Bình is quite well known its Huế cuisine.
Bánh Bột Lộc, Bánh Bèo steamed clear tapioca dumpling, steamed rice cakes
At the center of the dish are the bánh bột lộc, which are chewy like mochi, but a little more gelatinous in texture. This is probably not a texture familiar Westerners. So if you bring your non Asian friends here, you may want to get their feet wet with some boba milk tea first. The center of each dumpling is a little shrimp. The bánh bèo is kind of like a really thick rice wrapper. It’s soft and in itself, pretty flavorless. So it is kicked up with dried shredded shrimp, green onions, fried shallots, and a side of fish dipping sauce for some extra punch. For a bit of added crunch, are some fried pork skins that are neighbors to the south would call chicharrones. This is definitely good to share.
Bún Bò Huế spicy hue style beef noodle soup
I always start my description of bún bò huế as Central Vietnam’s answer to phở, which, many may not know, hails from the mighty North. In all honesty, it tastes nothing like phở. While phở is subtle, bún bò huế is bold. The color speaks to that alone. They both share a base of beef bones, while bún bò huế adds pork hocks for good measure. Ultimately, lemongrass and fermented shrimp paste is what sharply differentiates the flavor profile from phở, which sources its aromas from a combination of spices including cloves, star anise, and cinnamon. Aside from pork hocks, slices of beef shank, pork sausage, and congealed pork blood cubes join the party. That last one almost made you hurl didn’t it? Even I can’t stomach the thought of eating such a thing, so I never have. I pick it out. Ngự Bình serves the cleanest version of bún bò huế that I’ve had in a restaurant. By clean, I mean the flavor is pure and unadulterated by tons of MSG, shrimp paste, fish sauce, or other flavor enhancers. You can’t see it, but the noodles used in bún bò huế are thicker and a little more slippery than their thinner brethren in phở.
If you like Vietnamese food, and are looking for some new adventures, Ngự Bình is a sure thing. If you like bún bò huế, Ngự Bình is serving one of the best bowls in Westminster. If you like chewy rice things with meat inside, or sprinkled on top, you should also check out Ngự Bình. Food wise, there are few reasons NOT to eat here. There can definitely be a wait, and parking could be easier. If these things deter you, the sister restaurant Bến Ngự, is supposedly just as good or better, and definitely less crowded. Oh, if the sight of pork feet and congealed cubed pigs blood freaks you out, than this is not the place for you. But in the spirit of Halloween, maybe a little fright fest is what is in order!
10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome
8 – Very good
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here