Showing posts with label tofu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tofu. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Viet Soy Cafe, Silver Lake - Hot Soy on the Platter

Viet Soy Cafe Silver Lake

Moving over to the East Side of Los Angeles has been a pleasant experience so far. Besides being closer to J, there were Asian markets that I could shop at and a variety of places to eat at. Korea town is to the South, Thai Town to the North and Chinatown/Little Tokyo to the East. And not to mention the cozy, down-to-earth places in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area. The Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area offers a lot of vegetarian and vegan options for those that are health-conscious. If you don't have the word 'organic' on your menu at least 5 times, you'll get less customers. Though being a health-conscious eater usually does not apply to me, I'll occasionally eat something healthful. Good food is still good food to me, whether it's wrapped in bacon or wrapped in a kale leaf. J has been on a health binge, so it's been hard finding a place that would satisfy us both. But sometimes you'll find a gem in the nooks and crannies of any city. May I introduce to you, Viet Soy Cafe.

After four failed attempts in going here for a meal, we were finally met with an open door. Viet Soy Cafe, named after the owner Viet Tran, is quietly tucked in between a residential area on Hyperion Avenue. I call this the Highway-perion or Die-perion, because of the cars that go by at 55-60 mph. Be careful, many people have died on this street unfortunately. On a happier note, you're in for a light lunch if you don't get runned over.

J and I walked into the cafe, a quaint little space with 6 or 7 counter top seats, one small 2-top and 2 outdoor tables. Viet Tran greeted us warmly and pointed to the counter. Behind the counter is a large fridge, and to the back is the kitchen with 1 cook and 1 dishwasher. You can see all of this happening because the space is SUPER small. But nonetheless, a feeling of coziness that you get at a lot of restaurants in the Silver Lake area.

Viet Soy Cafe Window

We checked out the photo-copied menus, making sure to order the recommended dishes from Yelp reviews and Bon Vivant's posting. It was 10:30 am, and we couldn't be more excited about a healthy soy breakfast.

Viet Soy Cafe Soy Milk

Fresh Organic Soy Milk with Black Sesame
I love all soy milk. The super-thick, velvety soy from Silk. The boxed Soy milk from Hong Kong, Vitasoy, that kids never wanted to trade for during my time in grade school. The hot bowl of Soy milk that the Taiwanese have for breakfast. I love it all. At Viet Soy Cafe, you can get your soy milk with flavors: black sesame, cinnamon, mint or yerba mate (grassy, green tea-like taste). The black sesame seeds are toasted and ground probably with a mortar & pestle, and then lightly sprinkled into the cool, soy liquid. The soy was very fresh and subtle in sweetness, with slight undertones of sesame. If you like yours more sweet, I'm sure you can ask for sugar. I liked it the way it was served. You can take home a quart for $5.00 with a $1.00 bottle deposit.

Besides the ubiquitous vietnamese-style coffee with condensed milk, VSC offers a version made with soymilk - looks tasty!

Viet Soy Cafe Soy Nuggets

Soy Nuggets
Everytime I shop at the Chinese market, I have to make a stop at the soy products. From the five-spiced tofu to the fried soy squares, you can make endless stir fry dishes with these as a substitution for meat. According to Viet, the soy used for this dish is different from that of the milk. When ground together and mixed in with carrots, green onions and seasonings, the result is a nice 'nugget' of goodness. Some may find it necessary to have a dipping sauce, but again, I like it simple without any accoutrements. I could have eaten another order because they were just fried perfectly, almost tasting like chicken. 6 pcs. for $3.00

Viet Soy Cafe Jicama Rolls

Jicama Rolls
Jicama, a type of turnip, is used a lot in Vietnamese cuisine. If you've had cha gio before, you've tasted it. These spring rolls are made with sliced soy cubes, julienned jicama, mint, fried shallots and served with a hoisin/peanut butter dipping sauce. The rolls are light and easy to gobble up in 2 bites. I love ANYTHING with fried shallots in it. J really liked these because they're healthy. 5 rolls for $5.00

Viet Soy Cafe Chicken Banh Mi

Lemongrass Chicken 'Banh Mi' Sandwich
VSC offers three types of sandwiches: shitake & tofu, green onion sardine and lemongrass chicken. The lemongrass chicken was made with an orange aioli, probably mayonnaise and a little Sriracha mixed together. 8" sandwich for $5.00

Viet Soy Cafe Fish Noodles

Dill & Turmeric Fish Noodles (Bun Ca Thi La)
Like Mexican restaurants that serve their weekend menudo, Viet has his fish noodles on Sundays only. I'm more than glad he recommended this, because 3 hours after lunch, I almost drove back to Die-perion Avenue and risk my life running outside of my parked car to eat this again. The portion was small and I think he did this to strategically drive me crazy. I loved this dish. Viet said this is a Hanoi-style dish, and Hanoi food in general, has a much lighter taste than its Southern counterpart. The fish was sauteed in a pan and mixed with turmeric, dill, fish sauce, sugar and soy milk, served over bu'n noodles (rice noodles). And of course, a nice sprinkle of freshly fried shallots. I've never had this before so I have nothing to compare it to, but I will surely order this again. This Sunday. $7.00

Viet Soy Cafe Fish Noodles

The reviews and the overheard discussions on VSC did not disappoint me. While I'm curious as to how it would do in areas like San Gabriel Valley and Westminster, even Hanoi, you have to appreciate it for what it is. It's a cozy, quaint, tasty, health-conscious addition to the Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area with a nice, hard-working owner. A lot of people are vegetarian/vegan in this area and VSC is exactly the type of place they want. Even for a carnivore like me. This beats a coma-inducing meal at my other breakfast joint, Eat Well. If I were to open a restaurant, I would want a space exactly like this – 15-20 seats, 10 things on the menu. When you don't have too many items on the menu, you have more time to focus on making something the best it can be and you can actually talk to your patrons. Thanks for reading.

A-hem, A-hem, A-hem***
Viet Soy Cafe will be closed for a few weeks starting 11/25. Viet Tran is opening his other restaurant, Viet, in the Atwater Village, ACROSS from Indochine Cafe. Viet will feature Hanoi-stye Pho (more subtle than Saigon-style Pho and less toppings), cha gio egg rolls, banh cuon crepes, and much more.

Viet Soy Cafe
1997 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 663-7888
Sunday - Thursday 10am-3pm (closed Friday & Saturday)
Master-Cash Only!

Viet (Atwater Village)
3133 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) NOT-SURE

Eat Drink Style Koreatown Battle of the Tofu Houses: Beverly Soon Tofu VS. So Kong Dong Tofu

Korean Battle of the Tofu Houses

Tyson vs. Holyfield. Holyfield vs. Lewis. Great matches. But what about the real bouts - food fights!? For many in Los Angeles, it's Golden Deli vs. Pho 79, Sushi Zo vs. Sasabune, Phillipe's vs. Cole's french dip – the list goes on an on. But who reigns as champ in the soon tofu circuit? For those that have never eaten this delicious Korean dish, it consists of meat, seafood, tofu, broth and chili powder all served in a scalding hot stone pot. Before I frequented the two places above, I ate at BCD Tofu House a lot and Young Dong and Min Dong in the SGV area - they were average but I wanted the best of the best. All over Chowhound and Yelp, Beverly Soon Tofu and So Kong Dong were the two most mentioned places - both of which I had to sample. *Ding Ding Ding* Rumble time!

Live from the streets of Koreatown on Olympic Blvd., lie two contenders that have forever had conflict with each other. In fact, they are directly across the street from each other! On the North corner, weighing in at 2717 W Olympic Blvd Ste 108, about 900 square feet, in its 20+ years of serving food... Beverly Soon Tofu aka BST - The Beast! And on the South Corner, weighing in at 2717 W Olympic Blvd Ste 108, also about 900 square feet, also in its 20+ years of serving food.... So Kong Dong aka SKD - Super Killer Destroyer! (k that was stupid, but just play along). Let's take an insider look at those two opponents.

Beverly Soon Tofu, Koreatown

BST sits on the corner of a strip mall with very bad parking. All the buildings in Koreatown are 2-3 stories, and can only afford 10-12 parking spots because the area is so tight. The interior of BST takes on a rustic Korean atmosphere - I love the wooden benches they use. And can hold about 36 people. To add to the authenticity, you'll see a government-supplied metal bowl as part of your settings. No not for rice or soup - but for your ice tea! They give you your own ice tea dispenser which makes it easier for the servers to be more efficient in taking care of the food.

Beverly Soon Tofu Beef Tofu

Beef Soon Tofu
BST really packs a powerful punch with the soon tofu. The broth used is extremely full-bodied and you can tell it wasn't some kind of bouillon/powder used for flavoring water. For $8.27 per pot, BST doesn't dent your wallet. (That was bad!) The stock really has a strong beef taste and is thick, not watery like some other places. The tofu is soft and fluffy, the way I like it. Some places I've been to, the tofu is just too chunky/pasty and when mixed, turns the whole dish into swamp mush. You can easily lose your appetite if this occurs.

BST offers 10 kinds of soon tofu: the combination (meat/seafood), seafood, kimchi, mushroom, vegetable, fish egg, squid, shrimp vegetable, seaweed and soybean paste (dwen jang).

Beverly Soon Tofu Beef Tofu

Here's a slow mo replay of BST's beefy uppercut. Even when mixed up, tofu and broth stay separated.

Beverly Soon Tofu Kalbi

Like BCD Tofu House (Bok Chang Dong - the 24 hour soon tofu joint), they offer korean bbq platters with the soon tofu. For an additional $6, you can turn your soon tofu into a powerhouse combo! (sorry) Although the amount of kalbi given is sparse (6-7 pieces), you can't find a better pairing for your molten hot bowl of tofu. These are cooked inside the kitchen, so don't worry about getting the Soot Bull Jeep or Gui Rim experience.`

Beverly Soon Tofu Fresh Tofu

Not pictured are BST's side dishes (ban chan), which are another strong point - they are definitely high quality. Everything is good - the kimchi, the bean sprouts, radish, potatoes... and their secret weapon... silky round cuts of tofu in a light broth, sesame oil and seaweed strips. I gobbled this in 3 scoops. Loved it.

When the server brings you the rice that accompanies the soon tofu, it's also served in a stone pot. Once she scoops out the rice into the metal bowls, she'll add ice tea or water to the stone pot to loosen the rice that's burnt and stuck to the sides of the pot. With the help of some salt, this becomes an instant double dinner. Or if you choose not to add water, you can eat the burnt rice pieces on the inside of the pot, which Koreans refer to as 'noo roong ji'. Both are good sources of double dinner. In addition to the soon tofu, I hear that BST serves a good bibimbap, which is a stone pot filled with meat, eggs, veggies and rice - served with sesame oil and sweet red chili paste (gochujang).

Total bill comes out to about $34 with tax and tip for two people. Service is great here, parking isn't.

So Kong Dong Koreatown

Now a look at the Super Killer Destroyer, SKD, across in the South ring. SKD sits in the corner of a strip mall hidden behind the stairwell and also offers bad parking. BST has an advantage to SKD b/c it's on the north side of Olympic - much easier to turn into coming from either direction on Vermont. This area around 6 pm on a weekday is pure shit.

I came here on a weekend around 7 pm and it was quite slow. For a place to be this hidden and still hold a great reputation in the overwhelming Koreatown area really says a lot. I was greeted warmly and instantly smelled the goodness coming out of the kitchen.

So Kong Dong Tofu

For $8.50, you get a piping hot bowl of soon tofu. And it is super delicious. Thick, hot, bubbling - just like BST. But I'm going to have to say that SKD's soon tofu (beef, very spicy version pictured above) gives a nice hook to BST's noggin. Every single scoop made me want more and more - it was like chewing gum that never ran out of flavor. Tofu was very silky and fluffy like BST's, but I found that the soup evaporated faster than BST's, making everything really mushy and choppy. Still very good though! I'd take this over BCD anyday.

SKD also offers 10 kinds of soon tofu like BST: combination (meat/seafood), seafood, clam, oyster, beef, pork, kimchi, mushroom, beef intestines and dumplings.

So Kong Dong Dumpling Tofu

A good way to test the quality of the soup is to try the plain soup version. Just kidding, that's just my bullshit excuse for not being able to handle much spiciness (due to excessive drinking in the past). Great soup - I could definitely taste the essence of beef and seafood in the broth. I quickly stole some of J's spicy soup and dumped it in my bowl. Again, the broth evaporated quite quickly. But nonetheless, delicious.

Unfortunately, for those that are used to BST and BCD's kalbi/tofu combos, it doesn't happen here. This is where I think SKD may lack as a restaurant in whole. If you're in for the tofu, just come to either place and order the tofu. Some may argue that you don't go to a tofu house to order meat, which is true, as you don't order soup noodles in a chinese banquet restaurant. But if you must have a side of meat to go with your tofu, I suggest going to BST. SKD only offers beef and pork bul go gi (slices of meat served on a platter w/ onions) for $12.99 which is steep. If you add that to your $8.50 soon tofu, that's $22 we're talking there. But that's for sliced beef, not like kalbi ribs you can get at BST.

With a more expensive pot of soon tofu and no real meat combo, things aren't looking good for SKD. But the tables have turned and a possible comeback is in sight. This is SKD's secret weapon that may see to BST's strong set of side dishes... the spicy raw crab called 'gae jang'.

So Kong Dong Rawcrab

I've never had this but I can tell you that I have a favorite new side dish. Raw crabs are cracked and fermented with red bean paste along with green onions and garlic - awesome. There was so little meat on it though and I knew that it was more for sucking on. The paste used is really tasty. Crab does things to dishes – like how blue crab enhances the taste of Laotian/Thai papaya salad. You can order a whole plate of the raw crab for $10.99. Total bill for two orders of soon tofu with tax and tip comes out to like $18.

Judge's Scorecard after 20+ Years of Fighting

Best Overall Soon Tofu - I'd give it to SKD for it's strong broth. Both places have nice silky tofu, but it's the broth that's important.

Best Overall Side Dishes - This is a tie. BST has very good overall ban chan. But it's SKD's raw crab dish that wins a lot of people over. If you don't think you'll like raw crab, don't go to SKD. They also have fishcake but it's quite rubbery - not the best korean fishcake I've had.

Best Variety - This is a tie when it comes to soon tofu variations. I like the idea of BST's fish eggs, squid, soybean paste and seaweed in the tofu and I also like SKD's clam, oyster and beef intestine offerings - very unique! But I am a sucker for the dumpling tofu (mandoo), which is only offered by SKD.

Best Value - I'd give it to BST for their tofu/meat combos. BST offers both kalbi and bulgogi w/ combos, but SKD only offers non-combo bulgogi for $12.99. Quite expensive IMO for sliced beef. Even if I only want to eat soon tofu, I'd still come to Beverly because of the ban chan.

Best Miscellanous Benefits - Not that I really care about this but it depends on what you like. I like the old school benches at BST. SKD feels like any regular restaurant. Service is great at both places. Parking is shitty at both strip malls. I believe BST closes 30-60 mins earlier than SKD. And BCD Tofu House is open 24 hours.

Overall, I think both places are very solid. I'm glad there are other places to go to besides BCD Tofu House which for some reason just isn't on the same level as BST & SKD. I do like the fried yellow covina fish that's served as ban chan though - so tasty.

Are there better places than these two? Lemme know! I'd love to try it out and do another rematch posting. As always, thanks for reading.

Another compelling battle is also taking place in Koreatown... Pho 2000 vs. Pho 4000. Who is the real Pho restaurant from the future?!

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd #108
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1113

So Kong Dong
2716 W Olympic Blvd #104
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-3737