Elk Grove international

One worldly strip mall has it all

Rating (combined):

Viet Hoa Vietnamese & Chinese Cuisine:
4805 Laguna Boulevard
Dinner for one:
$10 - $13

Kabob Palace:
9168 Franklin Boulevard, Suite C
Dinner for one:
$10 - $15

Savory Fried Chicken:
9174 Franklin Boulevard, Suite C
Dinner for one:
$7 - $12

Rand McNally says Hanoi, Vietnam, is 2,395 miles from Kabul, Afghanistan. Kabul is 3,806 miles from Manila. Hanoi is 1,088 miles from the Philippine capital. Rand McNally is full of it—and not in a good way. At the Laguna Village Plaza, Kabob Palace is no more than 15 paces from Savory Fried Chicken, which is across the parking lot from Viet Hoa. Besides being a microcosm of the glorious diversity that is California, the three restaurants at Franklin and Laguna boulevards all appear to be family-owned and operated. There’s also a Little Caesars in the mall, but calling that Italian would be like calling Anthony Quinn a Greek.

The busiest of the three is Viet Hoa, whose voluminous Vietnamese/English menu includes a choice of 37 beverages, including sam bo luong—seaweed, ginkgo nuts, barley, longans and transparent snow fungus. On ice. Like so many things, the sum—crunchy, soft and sweet—is greater than the individual parts.

As with all Vietnamese restaurants, the best starting point is anything that says “dac biet,” house special. There’s a “dac biet” section of eight items, featuring pork, shrimp, beef and, in most cases, vermicelli. Elsewhere, two items are so labeled: pho dac biet tai nam gan sach bo vien—beef tendon, tripe and flank in broth—and the more inviting hu tieu dac biet viet hoa. The latter is a large bowl with some shrimp, a few squid bits, chicken and vermicelli. The broth is a little bland; bulk up the star anise.

The accompanying plate has cilantro, sprouts, a couple lime wedges, less that five jalapeño circles and no basil, which would help zip up the broth. Much is remedied by drawing on the resources of the table’s Lazy Susan. A couple spritzes of fish sauce and two big glops of the sainted sriracha make the dac biet even more dac biet.

The server wonders if banh cuon, a spring roll mainly consisting of pork skin, is truly the desired appetizer selection. It is. And it rocks. Bright, clean, with sunny tile trim, this place has affordable Vietnamese fare, a strong contingent of seafood and vegetarian dishes, and plenty of familiar Chinese offerings.

Kabob Palace, at least, the restaurant itself, is far quieter—there’s only one patron. Next door in the banquet room, which is separated only by a curtain, a mullah calls the faithful to prayer. His microphoned voice is loud, but as more than 30 people drift in, deposit their shoes near the door and kneel on the rug-festooned floor, the mullah’s volume drops.

Kabob Palace is the real deal: aushak, buloni, and, naturally, lamb, beef and chicken kabobs. Aushak, a pleasure on any occasion, is ravioli—sorta—filled with leeks topped with ground beef, a garlicky yogurt sauce and sprinkling of mint. Plenty to share in the $10 appetizer. The leeks also empower the buloni turnovers.

The lamb kabob is juicy, just a touch of charring at each cube’s corners. An ocean of brown basmati accompanies. Both are bettered with generous pours of the cilantro, garlic and vinegar chutney, which could be palmed off on an unsuspecting Argentine as chimichurri. The kindly matriarch appreciates the compliments and curiosity about ingredients.

Savory Fried Chicken might not seem a Filipino name, but students of Filipino food know “savory” is a cooking style in which chicken is boiled in a brown-sugar-heavy broth or marinated and fried. There are varied half- and whole-chicken combinations. The pork in the adobo is a little fatty; the stubby longanisa sausage is sweet and mild.

Attempting to explore the unknown, the matriarch is asked of dinuguan. Pork blood stew, she says. Perhaps next time. A small blue Post-it on the counter advertises siopao bola bola. Damned if it’s not a dim sum char siu bao on steroids with ground pork filling. Wash down with coconut juice. Further Filipino culinary exploration ahead. Maybe even a bowl of dinuguan.

Around the world at an Elk Grove strip mall? Authoritative by any objective standard.