I first heard of Mein Trung when the Twins at Sandwich Emporium mentioned both Mein Trung and Hoai Hue Deli as having the best two versions of Bun Bo Hue in San Diego. And while we were on vacation, the ever intrepid Cathy managed a visit and write up, so please read it first here. Think of this as a sort of addendum to Her visit.
I was told that Mien Trung didn't actually serve Bun Bo Hue in the restaurant until recently. At first the Bun Bo Hue was only made for "catering" orders, and you can still see that today, as people arrive bringing in large metal pots to be filled, returned, or picked up wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. I guess the demand was finally large enough for Mien Trung to start serving Bun Bo Hue in the little restaurant on Mesa College Drive. So let's start with the food......
The Bun Bo Hue Dac Biet($4.99):
The Bun Bo Hue broth is very balanced, neither too sour, spicy, pungent, or oily. I'd say that the broth has a great attribute, that I really can't put my finger on, or my tongue around, I'll just call it that complex something extra, a rich combination of flavors that makes a good bowl of Bun Bo Hue what it is. Another mention should go to the often under appreciated noodles which are always served at an excellent al dente state, I've often had my Bun Bo Hue with soft over cooked noodles, noodles that have been cut, or have some short coming that I don't enjoy. The noodles also hold form during the whole eating process. I also enjoy the Gio Lua - the lean pork sausage, this version is studded with peppercorns which are a pleasant surprise. I do end up adding a small spoon or two of fermented shrimp paste, and maybe a bit of chili oil to give the broth an added punch. I've found that the other meat provided are pretty pedestrian; the thick cut beef is just okay and sometimes dry and tough, the tendon served is usually two to three small pieces that are of the thick cut variety and hard to eat. On occasion, the pork hock has a good bit of meat, that always feels like a bonus...sort of like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. This is possibly the best Bun Bo Hue in San Diego......
The Missus has found a new favorite noodle soup; it's the Bun Rieu, She alternates between the Bun Rieu($4.50):
and the Bun Rieu Oc Dac Biet(Oc=snails $5.75):
She enjoyed these soups so much, that we had to return 5 times in the two weeks after we had returned to San Diego from our vacation. For those who've never had Bun Rieu, it's a seafood based broth, traditionally made from a dark brown crab found in rice paddies. The crab is cleaned, than pound into a paste, shells and all, and strained several times. Eventually after this process is completed, the crab liquid is clarified, and the remaining meat is formed into patties. The soup is than made with the crab liquid, tomatoes, and other seasonings, resulting in Bun Bo Hue. I really don't know how this soup is made, but it's mighty good. You can still see the tasty "crab cake" that is provided, along with fried bean curd. The soup has an additional slightly sour flavor, and the fried shallots, sliced onion, and cilantro add wonderful flavor to the broth. You'll find that the "Bun" is slightly thinner than the variety used for Bun Bo Hue. The Oc', or snails really don't have much flavor, and some Nuoc Mam Cham is provided for the slightly rubbery snails. After having this a few times, the Missus grew tired of them, and now gets Her own variation. She now asks for Bun Rieu "Dac Biet", while placing Her hands about 18 inches apart, and now gets a jumbo size bowl of Bun Rieu. You could say it's the "Rieu thing"!
So while the Missus has been enjoying Her Bun Rieu, I've been exploring a few other dishes, like the Bun Mang Vit(Rice Vermicelli Soup with Bamboo Shoots and Duck$4.99):
The broth for the soup is on the lighter side, and the taste of the reconstituted dried bamboo shoots adds a woodsy flavor. Overall, I found the duck to be rather flavorless, and to me there really wasn't enough bamboo in the soup. The soup comes with the usual topping of cilantro, fried shallots, and sliced onions. I still prefer the version at Chinese Kitchen, mainly for the amount of bamboo, and the flavorful duck. The broth at Mien Trung is more complex.
I also had a chance to try the Hen Xuc Banh Trang($4.99), and interesting appetizer, sort of like Chip n' Dip with an attitude:
A plate of stir fried baby clams, topped with sliced onions and cilantro is the "dip". The clams are very mildly spicy, with the distinct taste of black pepper. A large toasted Sesame Cracker(the chip) is provided for scooping purposes.
I found the clams to be somewhat gritty, and the Missus thought the whole dish to be somewhat fishy. Funny thing, I took the leftover clams(it was quite a bit), and used them in my packaged ramen broth, and man did it taste good!
We also partook of a few of the Central Vietnamese "Banh" (Steamed Cake) dishes. Starting with the Banh Beo($3.75):
Man this was alot of Banh Beo! It was kind of on the dry side, but did it have alot of ground dried shrimp on it, but it never tasted very fishy. It was all topped off with two slices of Gio Lua.
The Banh Bot Loc($3.75):
These steamed tapioca flour dumplings filled with a piece of shrimp and pork is steamed and served in a piece of banana leaf that adds a wonderful smoky, almost tea like flavor to the dumpling. The Missus enjoyed the flavor, though thought the pork was very tough. It was served with a little dish of Nuoc Mam(fish sauce), with sliced red chilies in it that was super spicy...as in burn your lips of spicy.
The Ban Nam La($3.75), which Cathy covers in detail:
As I mentioned at the outset, for more details please read Cathy's post on Mien Trung. Mien Trung has been added to rotation, the Missus peeked over my shoulder as I was typing this up, and said "mmmm, we need to get that this week!"
The service at Mien Trung is quick, and the folks are friendly, and the soup is always served hot.
7530 Mesa College Drive
San Diego, CA 92111
Open Tues-Sun 11am-8pm