99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Ha Tien Quan

photo by Danny Liao

Part of the menu at Ha Tien Quan you’ve seen before: pho, rice with grilled pork chops. The other part? That’s where things get interesting. Ha Tien is a city on the Mekong Delta well known for its bun mam, a hyper-regional soup that’s often referred to as “Vietnamese gumbo.” Like comparing bánh xèo to a crepe, though, this is an analogy so inexact as to be almost useless. Bun mam is a soup that can be defined only on its own terms, and there is perhaps no better place to experience it than at Ha Tien Quan. Here, rice noodles, eggplant, shrimp, pork belly and catfish are submerged in a complex, murky broth with a profoundly fishy umami, which can be traced to the fermented anchovies that owner Larry Ta imports from Vietnam. It’ll be served with herbs and a lemon wedge; both should be liberally applied. You’ll also want to order cha gio re — egg rolls with an intricate net of thin vermicelli, rather than rice paper or egg wrapper, hugging the filling. Is any other restaurant in L.A. cooking what Ha Tien Quan is cooking, and just as well? Probably not. All the more reason to go.

-- Tien Nguyen