Restaurant of the Week: Saigon Village Bistro

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Saigon Village, 1280 E. Holt (at East End), Pomona

One of a handful of Vietnamese businesses in Pomona’s far-eastern (where else?) stretch of Holt, Saigon Village opened in 2011, replacing Pho Express and the earlier Pho 54. Oldtimers will remember the location as Breakfast at Carl’s, a beloved breakfast spot that moved to Claremont and was renamed BC Cafe.

But that was then, this is now, as S.E. Hinton once said, and this spot has been a Vietnamese restaurant for maybe a couple of decades now. A friend and I met at Macho Pollo across the street for dinner but did so on the one day a week it’s closed. Saigon Village was an acceptable substitute.

The interior still looks a bit like a ’60s diner: crushed stones, big windows, comfortable booths, slinky hanging fixtures. The menu has a zillion items, lettered and numbered. One specialty is called 7 Courses Beef and apparently lives up to its billing (see photo below). An explanation is on the restaurant’s website.

My friend had CS5, special combination crispy egg noodles with chicken, shrimp, squid and vegetables ($9, pictured at bottom); I had the beef pho, another specialty ($7, below).

The noodle dish was constructed like a bird’s nest, very cool. “I liked it a lot,” my friend said.

I’ve had pho a few times, although I tend not to order it because I’m very poor with chopsticks and end up using a fork. The server, who may have thought I’d never had Vietnamese food before, pushed the pho, and when she brought it she explained what to do with the plate of condiments: strip the leaves from the mint and put them in the bowl, add the bean sprouts, mix Sriracha and hoisin sauce in a dish and swirl the meat in it, and add Sriracha to the broth. I have to say, nobody has ever offered instructions before.

Some on Yelp say the broth is bland, and I wouldn’t disagree — that may explain all the Sriracha — but I’m too inexpert to feel comfortable making much of a value judgment. Only large bowls of pho are served; I couldn’t quite finish mine, but I ate too much to bother taking the dregs home. I liked mine, although I feel like I’ve had better.

So, not a bad place, and if you like Vietnamese food, old diners or have fond memories of Breakfast at Carl’s, you might want to try it. Also, as my friend said of the cuisine: “It’s good hangover food.”

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  • Lois Robbins

    I remember eating at Breakfast at Carl’s when I was a kid. Then I ate here at BC’s when I worked Pomona. Both were great!

  • calwatch

    I still think Pho Vi is the best pho in town. It’s certainly the cleanest pho in town, as all of the other restaurants look slightly unkempt or sketchy.

    • Andy Sze

      They are certainly the cleanest. I like Pho Ha’s flavor but cannot stand their mess.

  • Andy Sze

    Before it was Saigon Village Bistro (is this place really a bistro?) It was
    Pho Express which had a very interesting non pho menu and home cooked flavor in their foods. They also had an interest ing mix of employees including old Vietnamese folks, their second generation children who help out in between their corporate managerial jobs and a couple of Caucasians. After patronizing them for years they closed in 2011.

    A couple months passed and Saigon village opened with all new ppl. Their service was inept with food handling cleanliness and service issues. After two visits I’ve yet to go back since 2011. I hope they’ve fixed their issues now.

    • davidallen909

      Good take on Pho Express, Andy. I got a sense of that for my V for Vietnamese column in Pomona A to Z. There were no service issues during my Saigon Village visit, but then, it was a slow night.

  • Bob Terry

    yes Lois, when my family went to breakfast in Pomona in the 60′s, it was either Carl’s, Seapy’s or The Hull House…which was closer to our home. By the way, DA, I have a feeling that “Donna Chang” might be back in town. If so…please tell her hello for me.