If one were to look at Jane and Michael Stern’s seminal Roadfood, which provides information about the best places to eat on America’s back roads, byways and, to a lesser extent, city streets, the takeaway would probably be that most restaurants are known for doing only a couple of things well.
That happens to be the case at Bosa 1, where the specialty is broken rice lunch plates, a staple of casual Vietnamese restaurants in both Asia and Orange County’s Little Saigon. A broken rice plate isn’t a broken plate, but rather a plate piled high with rice that has been shattered in dry form, and later steamed simply. The result: softer, more absorbent grains, the better to soak up the flavors of the many dishes surrounding them.
Bosa 1 is unassuming in the extreme. It is a boxy room with four booths and seven tables. Walls are draped in bamboo, decorated with a few watercolor prints depicting bucolic village life in a peaceful Vietnam. As to the restaurant’s name, the owner’s sister, who recently moved here from California, informed me that Bolsa, the name of the main drag in Little Saigon, is difficult to pronounce for her countrymen. So the owner’s cannily dropped a medial consonant.
- 3400 S. Jones Blvd., 418-1931.
- Saturday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
- Suggested dishes: nem nuong cuon, $5.99; No. 6 combo special, $8.99; Vietnamese iced coffee, $2.50.
It’s worthwhile to note that Bosa 1 does not serve pho, the meal-in-a-bowl beef noodle dish. Like at Raku, the Japanese pub that doesn’t do sushi, many patrons poke their noses through the door at Bosa to ask for the dish that most of us identify with this beguiling cuisine, only to turn tail and walk out when they discover that it is unavailable. They don’t know what they are missing.
Before you order the broken rice plate, there is another house specialty not to miss—nem nuong cuon, served four to an order, and one of the great Asian dishes in town. If you have ever tasted the fresh egg rolls served in a Vietnamese restaurant, generally stuffed with pork and never deep fried, you have a hint as to the reference.
Picture four long, cigar-shaped cylinders, wrapped in steamed egg-roll wrappers. Inside is a top layer of shrimp forcemeat, under which is a layer of minced vegetables. On the bottom, there is a long, crunchy pastry, rather like those pirouettes sometimes served in fancy espresso bars. On the side, there is a spicy peanut dipping sauce. The nem are served warm. Bet you can’t eat just one.
Now about those rice plates, which are called com tam dac biet (that’s “combo special” to you, pal): Look for Nos. 5 through 11 on this menu, the difference between them being the five side items that surround your rice. All of them get a wedge of egg cake stuffed with minced pork, and the jellied, shredded pork meat and skin that is particular to Vietnamese cuisine and so delicious.
But then, there are dishes like deep-fried shrimp cakes; barbecue shrimp, chicken, beef or pork; even Korean-style barbecue short ribs, sizzling from the grill. There is a salad of Vietnamese pickled carrot and radish along for the ride as well, and the usual spate of Vietnamese hot and bean sauces, not to mention a notorious fish sauce called nuoc mam, a pale brown elixir in a glass bottle. One of these combo plates constitutes a substantial lunch, but that doesn’t seem to deter anyone.
There are other dishes of note here, should you come with a larger group. Yes, there is bun bo hue, the central-Vietnamese noodle soup, which one can order with or without the tiny cubes of jellied pork blood. Rice vermicelli can be substituted for the broken rice when composing that combo plate. And a spate of refreshing drinks, such as the strawberry splash, a pureed strawberry lemonade or the justly celebrated Vietnamese-style iced coffee, are a must.
Finally it can be said: Vegas has a Vietnamese restaurant where the quality comes up to the level of a similar restaurant in Little Saigon. It’s about time.