Top 10 chomps of 2013

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2013 is over!  Its that time again to reflect on all the yummy eats I've had over the past year.  Lots of eating and good travels.  This year was filled food from domestic trips to LA, and New York.  I discovered a lot of great eats overseas in the Philippines and Vietnam.  Also, I finally got to eat at The French Laundry, a foodie's mecca (see post HERE). 

My 2013 chomps (in no particular order):
Crawfish Grits from Rickybobby (San Francisco, CA). 
Even though, I ate this pretty early on in 2013, I still can't stop thinking about how delicious it was.  I constantly tell people to eat this now!  Its one bowl that I would happily lick so every single drop of it was devoured.

Check out the original post on Rickybobby ( HERE)

Pastrami sandwich #19 from Langer's Deli (Los Angeles, CA). 
With a red carpet and its appearance in every tourist and LA guide available, its easy to think that this place could be a tourist trap.  However, one bite of the #19 made me a believer.  There aren't enough words to describe how perfect this sandwich is.  From the flavorful, fluffy bread to the juicy, not too salty, chunks of pastrami.  Tourists and locals alike rave at how awesome this sandwich is and now I can agree, it is THAT good.

Check out the original post on Langer's Deli ( HERE)

Dac Biet Banh Mi from Banh Mi Huynh Hoa (Saigon, Vietnam). 
It took me a trip all the way to Vietnam to find the banh mi of my dreams.  The dac biet banh mi at Banh Mi Huynh Hoa is the most heavenly banh mi I've ever had.  I never thought a banh mi could taste so light and airy with just the right amount of sweet and savory.  The only downfall was only ordering one of them.

Check out the original post on Banh Mi Huynh Hoa ( HERE)

Sicilian square at Di Fara (Brooklyn, New York).    
Di Fara is another one of those old institutions that I got to check off my list this year.  After many trips to New York, I finally decided to bite the bullet and take the train out to Brooklyn and lucked out on only a 40 minute wait for this slice.  It had all the makings of something that would just eek a possible hyped reaction out of me, but it was so good I was just dumbfounded that it took me this long to make it out here.  After many, many slices (even my preference for thin slices), I have to admit this Sicilian square is a masterpiece.  Its quite possibly the best slice I've had in my life. 

Check out the original post on Di Fara ( HERE)

Goat's milk gelato at Bulgarini Gelato (Pasadena, CA). 
Up to this point I'd always thought San Francisco had better ice cream and gelato than Los Angeles, then I stumbled upon Bulgarini Gelato.  The location is so discrete, it causes you to question how good could it possibly be.  Enjoying a scoop of the goat milk gelato with pretty much no one in sight makes you feel like you've discovered a secret treasure that no one else knows about.  The goat milk is so fresh that you can practically taste the grass that the goat ate.

Check out the original post on Bulgarino Gelato ( HERE)

Kouign Amounn at B. Patisserie (San Francisco, CA)
I never thought the day would come when my beloved Tartine Bakery could possibly be dethroned.  No lines, available pastries, and seating are just the frosting on the cake at this delightful bakery.  Kouign amounns have recently become some of my favorite pastries so much so that the name easily rolls off my tongue without hesitation.  The kouign amounns here are what other kouign amouns aspire to be - warm to the touch, flaky with just the right amount of sticky caramel coating. 

Check out the original post on B. Patisserie ( HERE)

Boat Noodles from Zen Yai Thai (San Francisco, CA).  
The boat noodles are on the secret menu written in Thai, but just uttering the words boat noodles to the server signals the beginning of a harmonious journey where all sweet, spicy, and savory live in together in a glorious bowl. 

 Check out the original post on Zen Yai Thai ( HERE)

Salmon cornets at The French Laundry (Yountville, CA).  
Its almost a sin not to put something from The French Laundry on my top 10.  The salmon cornets are easily the most shoutable dish for me.  The playful ice cream presentation is savory enough to make your mouth water for more.  The mini serving makes you both angry and excited at the same time.  The only thing its left me wondering is how many can I eat before I get sick of them.

Check out the original post on The French Laundry ( HERE)

Paletas at Los Manguitos (Redwood City, CA).  
I've learned a new Spanish word and I'll remember it forever thanks to Los Manguitos.  Its paletas - popsicles.  The fruit popsicles are so beautifully crafted and delicious its sure to make any poster on instagram and pinterest jealous.  Not just some fruit juice frozen on a stick, one lick and you can imagine you are on a island with tropical breezes flowing through your hair.

Check out the original post on Los Manguitos ( HERE)

sliced mangos in Boracay, PI (Boracay, Philippines).  
Its a little cheating since I haven't yet posted my picture of the Philippines, but I can't put this list together without a mention of the mangos I had in the Philippines.  While I'm fully aware and in awe of how much juicier and sweeter fruit is in Asia, I was not prepared for how much better the mangos would be in the Philippines.  From the local markets to the vendors selling them in bags on the street, each mango was poster child for what a ripe fruit should taste like.  When the world ends, you'll find me on an island eating these mangos. 

For my 2011 Top 10 Chomps check it out HERE

For my 2012 Top 10 Chomps check it out HERE


Bun Bo Hue stall @ Ben Thanh Market

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Literally right next to the banh cuon stand was the bun bo hue stand.  Even though, I knew that bun bo hue is not a local speciality (its from Hue), I had to grab a bowl since I wouldn't be making it to Hue.

The bun bo hue is very light and fresh tasting with a surprisingly plentiful amount of meat and fishcake.  Its actually not spicy and they give you a side dish or chilis to add based on your preference.

Thinly sliced banana blossoms and other herbs for adding into the bowl of bun bo hue.

The one good thing about hot weather is the good excuse to try different types of drinks.  The lychee drink was sweet and refreshing.

Address:                    bun bo hue stall @ Ben Thanh Market
                                   intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao, and Le Loi sts. District 1
                                   Saigon, Vietnam

Type:                          Vietnamese

Popular chomps:        bun bo hue

Chomp worthy:          bun bo hue    

Banh cuon stall @ Ben Thanh market

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Ben Thanh is a huge marketplace that sells all sorts of things from clothes to electronics, but the good stuff is in the food stalls located in the back.  These tiny food stalls serve up Vietnamese cuisine found all over Vietnam.  It can get a little overwhelming when trying to decide what to eat.  After a couple laps around the food area, I decided on a the banh cuon stall. 

Even though back in the States, I've never been a huge banh cuon fan, I saw this older lady making it fresh and I had to sit down and try it.  The process is similar to making other forms of Chinese rice noodles.  I've had the pleasure of waiting in the lines of SF's now RIP Hing Lung (see post HERE) back home and watching them make the rice noodles while waiting for a table.

Of course, more cafe sua da.

The banh cuon are made with super thin rice sheets and mixed with ground pork then topped with fried pieces of garlic.  The noodles are so thin, its almost translucent.  Nuoc mam is provided on the side for dipping.  The noodles here are ultra fresh and the texture is wonderfully springy.  Refreshing, yet light, which works well in this heat.  At 30,000VDN ($1.50USD), you can't resist sitting down for a snack like that.

Address:                   banh cuon stall @ Ben Thanh Market
                                  intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao, and Le Loi sts. District 1
                                  Saigon, Vietnam
Type:                         Vietnamese

Popular chomps:        banh cuon

Chomp worthy:           banh cuon


Banh Bo Sua Nuong (Dessert cart) (Saigon, Vietnam)

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After having a bowl of hu tieu from the Lunch Lady, I desperately needed something sweet.  The best thing about Saigon is there are food carts everywhere you turn.  Literally a dessert cart with the sweet smell of coconut was just around the corner.

The vendor made the banh bo sua nuong fresh even though there were a couple already sitting out.  Banh bo sua nuong is made with coconut milk and grilled in a small pan. 

The chewy texture with burnt outside edges remind me a lot of my favorite Hong Kong sweet street snack, eggettes. 

Address:                 banh bo sua nuong cart
                                around the corner from the Lunch Lady
                                Saigon, Vietnam
Type:                       Vietnamese

Popular chomps:      banh bo sua nuong

Chomp worthy:        banh bo sua nuong   


Lunch Lady (Saigon, Vietnam)

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The Lunch Lady is sort of huge tourist attraction, especially after appearing on Anthony Bourdain's show.  Supposedly huge buses drop tourists off to taste her soups, but most of the diners I saw were locals. 

There is a different dish served every day of the week. 

Today's dish is hu tieu nam vang.  Fresh shrimp topped with ground pork, a quail egg, and chewy noodles complete this hearty bowl of soup.

Fresh cut chilis and lime wedges for extra kick.

Herbs such as can tau (Chinese celery) and lettuce are provided for you to add to your soup.


Address:                    The Lunch Lady (Nguyen Thi Thanh)
                                    23 Hoang Sa St.
                                    District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Type:                           Vietnamese

Popular chomps:        soup of the day

Chomp worthy:          soup of the day       


Pho Hoa Pasteur (Saigon, Vietnam)

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Before coming to Vietnam I was fully aware that one of the few dishes that was tastier in the States was pho, but I just couldn't fathom going all the way to Vietnam and not having a bowl of pho.  Pho Hoa Pasteur is one of the city's oldest and most famous pho restaurants.  Its so famous that most of the pho restaurants in the States are named after it - Pho Hoa or Pho Pasteur.

Pho Hoa Pasteur has two level and its smart to go straight to the second floor to eat because that floor is air conditioned.  Most of the tables are already set and have a variety of dishes already on them from pate chaud to bananas.  If you choose to eat anything, then you will be charged on your bill at the end of your meal.

I can never get enough cafe sua da, especially in this heat and while eating pho.

Pho Tai is my standard order of pho.  Here instead of serving the meat in thin, round slices, its ground up and piled into the bowl of pho.  Since the bowl of pho is quite hot, the raw meat cooks rather quickly.  The broth was murky and very light in flavor.  It lacked the distinguiable beefy taste that is found in pho from the States.  The broth is tenfolds better back home.  I did like the noodles, which were chewy and not clumped together.

The herbs for adding into your bowl of pho.

Address:                   Pho Hoa Pasteur
                                   260C Pasteur St
                                   Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Type:                         Vietnamese

Popular chomps:      gio chao quay (Chinese fried donuts)
                                   pho tai
                                   pho bo

Chomp worthy:       nothing     


Banh Xeo 46A (Saigon, Vietnam)

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Banh Xeo 46A seems to appear in every site and book related to food in Saigon.  While banh xeo isn't one of my favorite Vietnamese foods, I figured maybe eating it in Vietnam would change my mind.   

I was not prepared for the heat here.  I was expecting something more humid, but it was 90F and mostly dry heat.  I took every chance I could to drink something cool.  This time was an avocado shake, which was thick, but still sweet and refreshing.

I was sort of prepared that Banh Xeo 46A would be a little touristy, but I was not prepared for the Americanized sized portions.  An order of fried egg rolls yielded 8 large pieces, about half the size of my hand.

The egg rolls were crispy and delicious, and especially refreshing with the lettuce and herbs around it.

Nuoc mam (fish sauce) dipping sauce for the egg rolls and the banh xeo.
The banh xeo followed suit with its monterous sized portion.  It was larger than any banh xeo I'd ever come across and could easily feed a three people.  The egg crepe was filled with shrimp (with their shells on), bean sprouts, and slices of pork.  Although it was crispy, I found this banh xeo to be much too oily and lacking much flavor.

The lettuce and herbs to wrap the banh xeo and egg rolls.

Address:                   Banh Xeo 46A
                                  46A D Dinh Cong Trang
                                  District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Type:                         Vietnamese

Popular chomps:      banh xeo

Chomp worthy:         egg rolls 


Banh Mi Huynh Hoa (Saigon, Vietnam)

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I often blog about banh mi in the Bay Area so its no surprise that I had to eat one when I was in Saigon.  Banh Mi Huynh Hoa is located on a dark street, but its easily distinguisable by its long lines and motorbikes parked in front.

The bread is lightly toasted and packed with yummy fillings as you order.

At a little over $1.25 USD, the dac biet (combination) banh mi is a little pricier than the average banh mi sold on the streets of Saigon, but its worth it.  Its definitely the best banh mi I've ever had.  From the absolutely most perfect banh mi baguette (the outer crust flakes off just so with a fluffy inside), a slightly buttery taste from the freshly heated bread, flavorful pate and ham, sweet crispy vegetables, no other banh mi I've had comes close. 


Address:                 Banh Mi Huynh Hoa                             
                                26 Le Thi Rieng 
                                Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Type:                       Vietnamese

Popular chomps:     banh mi

Chomp worthy:        dac biet banh mi        


Banh Dui Ga food cart (Saigon, Vietnam)

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There are so many street vendors all over Saigon, a lot more than I've seen in even Thailand.  The types of street vendors are endless here with often different vendors selling different food in the same location, but different times of the day.  One of the more odd ones was this deep fried stand that sold all sorts of fried goodies. 

The most familiar looking was the yau tiu (Chinese donuts).  Normally, I don't eat these plain and prefer to dip them in bowl of congee, but I couldn't resist the delicious smell coming from this cart.  At around five cents USD, it made for a nice snack on the way back from lunch.  The yau tiu was fried super fresh without much oiliness.

Address:                 Banh Dui Ga food cart
                                Saigon, Vietnam
Type:                       food cart

Popular chomps:     yau tiu   
                                 banh dui ga
Chomp worthy:       yau tiu        


Starbucks (Saigon, Vietnam)

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When I went to Vietnam in February, Starbucks had just opened its first location in Ho Chi Minh city.  The store is gigantic, larger than any US store I've been to, and the location in the busy intersection junction of the bustling Nga Sau Phu Dong.

Vietnam is the one Asian country where coffee is a huge part of their culture.  Cafe sua da is one of my favorite Vietnamese drinks and I drank quite a bit of them when I was in Vietnam.  I was surprised to see a huge line inside that snaked around the bottom floor and took over thirty minutes to get to the front.  As with every Starbucks outside of the US, the coffee here is pricey, almost $5 USD for a cup versus less than a dollar for a cafe sua da on the street.  Another surprising fact is that most of the customers are actually locals and the frappaccinos seem to be the most popular drink of choice, which is even more pricey than a regular cup of coffee.

Every Starbucks has their own type of sandwiches and pastries, even throughout the United States the snack counter can be quite different.  The most unique thing was the roast duck wrap.  Duck is quite popular in Saigon river areas, but my short trip didn't allow for time to venture to that area.  For the roast duck wrap, I was expecting something like a Chinese style roast duck, but the meat was flavorless and skimpy.

Scanning the menu, most of the drinks are similar to that found in the States.  The only unique one I found was the Asian Dolce Latte, which was heavily marketed throughout the store.  Its a double shot of dark-roasted Starbucks® French Roast and a "dolce sauce" (sweet syrup) and then mixed with milk.  I prefer my coffee black (unless its cafe sua da) so its not surprise I found the drink too sweet.  The special mixture is possibly to adhere to the regional tastes of cafe sua da, but I think I prefer cafe sua da. 

Address:                 Starbucks
                                76 Lê Lai, Bến Thành, Ho Chi Minh City, 
                                Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Type:                       coffee

Popular chomps:     frappaccinos
                                 Asian dolce late

Chomp worthy:       nothing     


Shrimp angling at Kieu Dam Pool (Saigon, Vietnam)

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I love doing really unique things when I travel.  One of the absolute must do things I had my heart set on in Saigon was shrimp angling (fishing).  Traveling in Vietnam takes a little patience as most of the taxi drivers and even hotel staff don't speak English.  I was a little hesitant after hopping into a cab and the driver not really knowing exactly where this place was, then dropping me off on a dirt road and telling me to go straight ahead.  After finally walking for about 10 minutes and peeking my head into every single doorway imaginable, I finally found it!

Kieu Dam was super hard to find.  Even walking up to it, I was still unsure what to expect.  A dirt walkway and a giant tentlike building made way to a small pool with tables and chairs surrounding it.

No one spoke English, but after somehow gesturing that I was there for shrimp fishing, they gladly set me up with a fishing pole and some worms. 

I wasn't sure how long it was going to take to even catch anything.  Peering down into the pool, its quite dark so you can't really see if there is anything in there, you just hope for the best.  Saigon was much hotter than I thought it would be so a nice cold Tiger beer was very enjoyable, especially since this venue is not really enclosed.
If you are choosing to angle shrimp, the cost is per person, per hour.

Originally, I had estimated maybe an hour and I would have a flowing table of shrimp.  I was so wrong.  Three hours later and three shrimp were all that were caught.  The first one really shouldn't count because one of the workers must have felt sorry for me and helped me catch it!

After catching the shrimp, they hang it in nets over the water until you are ready to eat.  Like in most Asian countries with fresh seafood, you can choose how you would like your shrimp to be cooked.  I chose grilled, which led for a small, but satisfying snack.

Knowing that three shrimp wasn't going to satisfy anyone's appetite, I ordered the rau muong.  Rau muong is also called water spinach.  My parents cooked this for me quite a bit as a child and I was pleased to see that the same technique was used here.  A slight stir fry with bits of garlic.  One thing I love about rau muong is the texture.  The crunchiness is similar to chewing little straws.

Chilis and soy sauce were given for dipping the grilled shrimp in. 

Address:                    Kieu Dam Pool
                                   793/35/4 Tran Xuan Soan St., Tan Hung Ward, Dist. 7,
                                   Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Type:                          seafood

Popular chomps:        shrimp

Chomp worthy:           shrimp
                                     rau mong