The county’s restaurant scene gained a flavorful new facet when Saigon Eggroll began serving authentic Vietnamese fare in January 2008.
Tucked in the Food 4 Less Center in Paso Robles at the corner of Niblick and Creston roads, Saigon Eggroll is owned by husband and wife Nhi Phu and Dee Tran, and it’s definitely a family affair. Because the restaurant was formerly a take-and-bake pizza place — meaning no cooking equipment, only prep space — the couple and their relatives gutted it, doing virtually all of the remodel themselves. It’s still a casual space, but it works perfectly for Saigon Eggroll’s growing mix of eat-in and takeout clientele.
Phu and Tran moved to the area in 2003 from San Jose, drawn by family that was already here and wanting a better environment to raise their now-10-year-old son.
Though Saigon Eggroll is their first shot at owning a restaurant, “Nhi’s (Chinese) family is all in the business, and my (Vietnamese) parents opened a restaurant in Stockton in the 1980s,” said Tran. Both Tran and Phu have also cooked at home since they were kids, so the Saigon Eggroll dishes “are all from home recipes.”
Overall, the Vietnamese fare focuses on “fresh vegetables cooked on the spot,” said Phu, and Tran added that “there’s a lot of flavor from cilantro, onions, garlic, Thai basil, mint, peanuts. … It’s a fish sauce base versus the soy base of Chinese food, and we use a lot of rice — not just steamed rice, but also rice noodles and rice paper wrap.”
Among the most popular and authentic items are the pho noodle soups and the Vietnamese sandwich known as banh mi, which offers your choice of grilled pork, shredded chicken or tofu on a crispy baguette-style bun with loads of crunchy pickled veggies. You can also get it kicked up with some jalapeños, which isn’t just a nod to California palates, but actually “common in Vietnamese food — we use a lot of fresh peppers,” said Tran.
Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a classic dish of meat served over noodles with hot, savory broth. You have your choice of chicken, tofu, seafood or beef; if you choose the more traditional beef, the very thinly sliced meat is actually cooked by the broth as it is being poured over the dish. From there, dress it up as you like with the accompanying assortment of cilantro, green onions, Thai basil, lime and jalapeños.
Other items on the Saigon Eggroll menu include fresh spring rolls and fried eggrolls, com suong nuong (barbecued short ribs) and bun tom thit nuong (grilled pork and shrimp over noodles and vegetables), a spicy Vietnamese version of fried chicken, and salt and pepper shrimp. You can also order bubble tea, a sweet tapioca pearl tea drink that’s a popular Asian dessert.
“We’re still introducing our menu to people,” said Tran, adding that there are pictures of almost all of the dishes so customers can know what they’re ordering without having to be familiar with the Vietnamese names. “We’re also adding to our menu per customer requests, especially for vegetarians and vegans, so we keep evolving, borrowing from other Asian cuisines and offering some diversity — possibly even adding some dim sum and other appetizers.”
Overall though, people seem to be enjoying the process of discovering the authentic Vietnamese cuisine, and Tran noted that “we’ve created a kind of niche, but we already have regular customers that are like friends — we know their names and what they want. We’re family-run and very small, so it’s like we’ve created a small community.”