Day 1 of our Los Angeles trip, featuring:
- Summer Rolls “A Nem Nuong Restaurant” (Rosemead)
- In-n-Out Burger (Rosemead)
- Stone Company Store (Pasadena)
- Congregation Ale House (Pasadena)
Summer Rolls “A Nem Nuong Restaurant”
Our first meal after landing in LA was a place that we actually went to during our first trip in 2012, although it had a different name back then:
Back then, it was called “Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa”. There’s a tenuous family connection between Wicca’s family and this restaurant and a bit of mystery as to why this restaurant changed its name.
Immediately familiar was the male owner, who appears to be in his 40s. The staff and the food seem to be the same, so why the name change? The answer we got from the owner didn’t immediately satisfy…
Banh Beo (Steamed Rice Cakes) served with fish sauce.
Topped with green onion, crushed dried shrimp and a crunchy, oily, saturated crouton. These tasted the same as 3 years ago…texture was soft and mealy, not the slippery silky texture that is the ideal in banh beo 🙁
Served with raw chilies and garlic cloves, as is the style in Ninh Hoa, Vietnam.
Their namesake dish, Nem Nuong Summer Rolls. They say these are “dac biet”, which means “special”. You might be familiar with this phrase when you order banh mi, as in “banh mi dac biet” 🙂 You can order these pre-rolled (like above) or unassembled (below).
Two kinds of table chili condiments for your amusement.
Here’s the unassembled version of the Nem Nuong Summer Rolls. Again I hate calling them “summer rolls”! Just feels wrong and kind of too anglicized. We later went to another Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon that calls these types of rolls “spring rolls”, so it’s like “What the fuckity fuck fuck?!”
Another special Ninh Hoa touch is the gloopy, glutinous rice sauce. You might’ve had salad rolls with a hoisin-based or fish sauce-based dipping sauce, but Ninh Hoa style uses this orangey sauce. I love how it clings to the rice paper. It’s slightly sweet but also has a savouriness to it.
Inside we have the charbroiled pork meatball/sausage (nem nuong), fried egg rolls (menu says “shrimp” but I couldn’t see or taste any shrimp in those tiny things), lettuce, carrots, Vietnamese herbs, and either banana leaf-wrapped pork patties or sour pork patties.
The nem nuong sausage meat here is pretty good. Not too salty or sweet. Wrapped up with all the accompaniments it’s really good. I can see why this place does busy and consistent business.
Photo of the Ninh Hoa market in Vietnam on the wall of the restaurant. Coincidentally, Wicca’s paternal grandparents are also from Ninh Hoa, and her family treated her to this exact same style of nem nuong salad rolls when she visited them last year in Vietnam. So this place gets a stamp of authenticity! Their bun bo hue is pretty good too, but we’d pass on the banh beo.
Three years ago, I tried to eat a double-double-animal-style at this exact same In-n-Out Burger but was thwarted by a combination of my gluttony and carelessness. We were eating at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa next door, but I noticed an In-n-Out Burger RIGHT THERE, so I snuck off and bought a big, messy burger and shoved it into my bag, for fear of offending Wicca’s family. When we got back to our hotel later, the animal sauce had leaked through the wimpy bag and got all over my camera! We spent a good 45 minutes cleaning my camera before I could finally bite into the burger. By that time, it had congealed into an awful, unappetizing brick 🙁
Milk and coffee are the same price as 3 years ago. Everything else has gone up 15-40 cents.
I didn’t do any fancy customizations or secret menu stuff. Well, except for asking for my fries “well done” and getting a Neapoliton shake 😉
Regular hamburger, well-done fries and a Neapoliton shake. My first “pure” In-n-Out Burger experience!
Iceberg lettuce sometimes has a place. A fast food burger is one of them. The crunchy fresh lettuce is totally part of the appeal. Understandably, the patty is quite thin.
Some interesting factoids on the wrapper.
The well-done fries were good but a little dry inside from the extra frying, I think. I appreciate that they’re fresh-cut, and will totally hit the spot if you’re in a certain mood, but they still don’t touch McDonald’s frankenfries in their prime 😛
The Neapoliton shake was a shake. Standard fast food shake. Nothing more, nothing less.
I had read about In-n-Out getting a nice char on the patty, even if you ask for medium rare, but I didn’t see or taste much char.
I could see how a fresh, hot double-double-animal-style would be THE BEST THING after a drunken night on the town, but their standard hamburger is just your basic fast food burger. Maybe that’s the attraction? The freshness and simplicity? Being a Canadian, I’d probably prefer an A&W Burger over this though…
Stone Company Store
I wonder what they wiped off the board?
We got here only 25 minutes before they closed, so I had to make a huge rushed decision on what to drink, and drink it fast!
I tried to speed-savour as much of these high-ABV beers as I could in 20 minutes. Kind of exciting and fun, but also not fun in a way…
From left to right:
Pale 2.0 (6%) – Bitter, dry, a hophead’s pale ale.
Delicious IPA (7.7%) – Lemony hops!
Enjoy By 04.20 (9.4%) – Finish was astringent, dry, and hoppy but quite smooth! Amazing mouthfeel!
2015 Russian Imperial Stout (10.6%) – Chocolate, coffee, tobacco. Sticky. Leathery.
2015 Chai-spiced Russian Imperial Stout (10.6%) – Obvious aroma of chai. Tastes like chocolate chai! Intense! Smooth, creamy and thick. I bought a bottle of this 😉
Fair amount of bottles. Probably no rare stuff. I still just grabbed stuff cuz time was running out.
I noticed all of the breweries in LA had their merchandising game down pat, with all sorts of branded gear for hopheads to spend money on.
Lots of glassware available.
Mustards, sauces, books…
This hot sauce pack is right up my alley but I already had too much stuff 🙁 That slope is mighty slippery.
Congregation Ale House
Pasadena is a bit of a touristy area but it’s also a college-type area too with Pasadena City College and Caltech in the area. It was fun drinking at Congregation Ale House with a younger, student-type crowd.
The inside has an exposed wood ceiling and a slightly monastic feeling.
These college kids are drinking some good shit! It was tough to make a decision but the bar staff were good with the recommendations.
First beer: Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale (8%) on nitro. Malty, smooth and easy.
Pretzel with saison cheddar cheese sauce. Decent pretzel. Crunchy outside, soft inside. Cheese sauce was tasty and did the job quite well.
Stone IPA Bratwurst. Not sure how the IPA figures into this but the sausage was enjoyable with a good snap.
It’s like a deluxe hot dog 😉 acceptable ratio of sausage to bun.
Side of Tater Tots with curry ketchup in the front and sweet chili sour cream in the back. They’re tater tots but done well! Fried aggressively enough to be crunchy on the outside and still tasted good after an hour. This place has straight-up crowd-pleasing college pub eats!
Really feeling the massive ABVs from the Stone flight, so finishing off the night with just one more beer: Drake’s Hopocalypse Double IPA (9.3%). So fruity! All the big, fruity west coast hops. POW! I appreciated that it had less of that syrupy, sticky, malty quality than other DIPAs.
Great beer selection and good unfussy eats make this place a winner for me.