You can judge a book by its cover. Or, at least, you can judge a restaurant by its facade. Little Saigon, one of the newest restaurants nestled in the heart of Downtown Abbotsford, dwells behind a striking black facade with dramatic signage, and the food it serves is equally striking. When you enter Little Saigon, at 33766 Essendene Avenue, you’re swept out of the cold and into a bold room with solid leather furniture, maroon walls with camel accents, and natural décor accents. The four-month-old restaurant is new to Abbotsford, but the Little Saigon in Mission has been successfully operating for four years. This fact bodes well for the new location. Little Saigon offers an enjoyable sit-down, Vietnamese, fine-dining experience that will surely add some flavour to the selection of restaurants offered in Downtown Abbotsford’s vibrant core.
My party of three was quickly seated to a comfortable booth amid a handful of other diners and ordered a pot of jasmine tea to share. Little Saigon’s menu boasts wide variety, including lots of seafood appetizers (including spicy mussels and calimari), a formidable soup and vermicelli section, and an assortment of rice entrees. At the back of the menu, a few combinations are listed: dinners for two, three, four or five, with set menus, and ranging in price from $26 – $59.
Glancing over the appetizers, initially tempted to go for the crispy quails, my table settled on some chicken dumplings to share, served with fish sauce. The pastry was delicate – so delicate that my clumsy chopstick maneuvering managed to burst one of them open – and the filling inside was fresh and tasty. The price, at $7, seemed a bit steep for five dumplings. Next time I will try a different appetizer.
Wanting to try a traditional noodle soup – the perfect comfort food on a rainy day – I chose the beef pho for my entree. I ordered the small size, which would be sufficient for a lunch. At $7 for a small size, the modestly priced menu item was a little less substantial than I would have liked. The subtle broth was accompanied by a generous portion of rice noodles. However, the rare beef slices served on top, while delicious, could have been more abundant. None-the-less, I slurped down my pho with pleasure.
Also at our table was the deluxe chicken soup, $7.50, which contained chicken meatballs and shredded chicken, in a mild pho broth. A plate on the side was stocked with bean sprouts, thai basil and lime to add to both soups. According to one of my dining companions, the shredded chicken was preferable to the meatballs, but overall, the soup had the kind of comforting feeling that one would expect from chicken noodle soup, with Vietnamese flair.
Overall the winning dish at our table was the Saigon Special, a dish that comes highly recommended by one of my fellow diners. Following the traditional Vietnamese “everything in one bowl” philosophy, the dish was a mixed bag containing grilled shrimp, pork, pork patty, pickled carrot, bean sprouts, lime, and deliciously crisp, cut-up spring rolls. Slathered with sriracha and hoisin sauces, this dish was an all around favourite tried by everyone at our table. The spring rolls were so good it bears repeating: so good. I will definitely order spring roll appetizers next time I dine at Little Saigon. At $13.50, the Saigon Special is one of the higher priced menu items, but with all that it has to offer, it is definitely good value.
The verdict: Go to Little Saigon for classy ambiance and Vietnamese cuisine. Stay away from the pho, because the true gems are their special dishes. As one of my dining companions remarked, Little Saigon would be a great place for a date. But maybe not a first date; if you order noodles, you’ll be doing a lot of slurping.