A few months back I was heading to the 15 North, and much like how I've noticed many places while driving in the area, saw that the former Five Star Banquet Hall that had become a Vietnamese - Chinese banquet hall, was now serving food to the public.
So, I did a quick U-turn and drove into the parking lot to check the hours. The following weekend; after working for a few hours; I drove down to the area to check the place out.
And yes; it is indeed a banquet hall; from the dance floor, stage, and lighting.....to the pressed white table cloth.
As you can see in the photos above; I was the only customer in the place. The two women working were really friendly.
I wasn't sure if I should try the butter wings or the fish sauce version. The woman working sincerely told to try the fish sauce wings first.
The wings were of decent quality; no dark spots or broken bones. I liked the size of them as well. I did think the sauce was too sweet for my taste and these weren't fried well; making the skin quite gummy.
I had also ordered the Pho Dac Biet.
And, as you can tell by the sprouts and herbs above; was prepared to be disappointed.
But when the pho arrived at my table; I as pleasantly surprised.
The proteins really surprised me. The tai; rare beef was nicely rare, and of better quality than the typical top round. It as quite tender. The tendon was also another winner.
The noodles were decently prepared and as a whole; I really enjoyed this bowl. Now when was the last time I had a decent bowl of pho at a new place?
It didn't hurt that the two women working were really nice as well. I'd noticed a bunch of things on the menu that I wanted to check out. A few weeks later; Calvin and I had a chance to runaway for lunch.
I had mentioned trying the Bo Tai Chanh….strange, but Calvin; whose Missus is Vietnamese had never heard of this dish before. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised as he'd never heard of Bun Mam or even Bun Mang Vit until having lunch with me. Anyway; Bo Tai Chanh is a beef salad in Lime Juice.
This was a pretty decent version; though I wish the beef was a bit more rare. It was also a tad on the sweet side; but squeezing lime on it balanced out the flavors. There were a few hidden chilies; which added some zip to things and I loved the onions as well. The fried shallots added some sweetness and the peanuts; that earthy-nutty flavor. This was quite refreshing on a super hot day. Calvin was all over this....
I also ordered the Thit Heo Nuong; basically a marinated pork salad.
Calvin wanted some noodles and asked if they did Hi Tieu Ap Chao....which is how we came to find the "other" menu. Which had some interesting dishes on it.
So even if the Stir Fried Hi Tieu was bland and routine.
The noodles were nice prepared; but there just wasn't enough flavor.
That menu had my interest. Though my next visit; on the following weekend was a solo one.
I mentioned being a bit hungry and the nice lady suggested the Bo Luc Lac.
The portion size was indeed generous and the Com Do (red tomato rice) was mild in flavor though nice and moist. The beef was just barely toothsome from the stir fry at first bite; then very tender. The sauce balanced on the edge of being too salty. I really enjoyed the jalapeno peppers in the stir fry. Overall, not bad at all.
Of course Calvin just needed to have that Bo Tai Chanh again; so we headed back the following week.
This time; the meat was a bit over-done. I think I'll request this more rare next time.
The Cha Ca Thang Long wasn't bad.
As you can see; no it's not even close to being as good as Song Long, but I didn't expect that. The turmeric fish was moist and tender; with no off flavors. I missed the fried shallots and peanuts and in this case; I think more oil could have been used. It wasn't too bad overall. There was an abundance of bun, crackers, and mam nem, which seemed a bit mild in this case. There was a good amount of dill used for this dish.
We also got the Bun Cha Ha Noi.
A bit smallish in portion size; this was on the mild side with regards to the marinade and the nuoc mam cham. The meatballs were sufficiently tender as was the pork; which I think was the better seasoned of the two meats. Again, very generous with the veggies and bun. Not bad; but I don't think I'll be ordering this again.
I will however, return to Royal Garden. I think the quality of ingredients used here is pretty good and there's much more to explore on the menu. Bap Xao Tom Kho, Hu Tieu My Tho, Pho Duoi Bo, among others. Plus, I like the two women working here.....they are very nice and friendly. Yes, the food might take a while, but that's ok....it gives you more time to enjoy the banquet set-up.
4201 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92105
Wed - Mon 9am - 9pm