Saigon’s Return

Chopsticks2 Fans of the original Little Saigon on Franklin Avenue in Nutley, who mourned the restaurant’s passing due to a fire, have been waiting, chopsticks poised, for its reopening in Montclair. Tucked away at 19 Elm Street, just steps from Bloomfield Ave., Little Saigon opened just prior to the new year, in the space formerly occupied by Apple’s Caribbean. If you’ve visited Binh Duong in Bloomfield, you’ll find many of the dishes familiar, but the atmosphere far more appealing. And although nitpicky foodies at egullet may take exception to the pairing of cloth napkins with linen tablecloths, it didn’t offend the sensibilities of gang Barista, during a recent business lunch held there. We were way too busy eating the incredible food to care ($6 for lunch; $7 if you want soup — try the peppery wonton). Little Saigon definitely kicks Montclair’s Asian offerings up a notch. Sure, we love the dueling Thai restaurants on Bloomfield Ave., but Vietnamese cuisine is an exciting diversion, with intensely flavored dishes like Little Saigon’s signature crispy friend sweet potato nest, a tempura-like creation studded with shrimp and served with fragrant fish sauce (nuoc mam). Crispysweets_2 Little Saigon’s dishes display all the hallmarks of great Vietnamese food — fresh ingredients artfully prepared so that distinct flavors and textures and aromas emerge as you eat. It’s food so flavorful you want to finish every last slippery strand of vermicelli or grain of rice. After wowing us with lunch, an extensive take-out order was procured for additional (yum!) research. The expertly-packed fare brought home did not disappoint; gracious touches like sprigs of coriander, basil and mint decked dishes accordingly and all the appropriate sauces were included. Shredded pork rolls, tightly wrapped in translucent rice paper, served as great starters. Grilled squid, incredibly tender, took on another dimension when dipped in the accompanying bean curd sauce. Smallbeef_5 Sauteed beef with lemon grass and curry sauce on a bed of vermicelli was pleasingly spicy, not overpowering. Papaya shrimp salad, a menu standard, with its sprinkling of peanuts, shredded papaya and halved shrimp, was as good as we hoped, with the added bonus of a generous serving. Little Saigon has an interesting selection of desserts, including what qualifies as the Vietnamese version of comfort food, a warm tapioca pudding with sliced bananas floating in sweet coconut milk. Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk (similar to the Thai version) is a nice ending; more daring folks can try a Durian shake. Feast4_2 For the uninitiated, durian is a football-sized fruit with a scent so pungent that’s actually prohibited at some hotels in Vietnam. What draws people to it, is the custard-like fruit beneath its spiky husks, and a terrific flavor that transcends the smell (for some). For $3.50, you can try the shake or sample other exotic offerings including jellyfish salad ($8.95) or sauteed frogs in sweet and sour sauce ($17.95). Most of the menu items, including the poplar pho selections (noodle soups with beef, pork or shrimp) are in the $5.25-$8.95 range, with fish dishes running higher. Little Saigon is open every day but Monday; closes 9:30 pm, or 10:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. (973) 783-3914

Liz George

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Finally!!! We were waiting and waiting …………… For us “Little Saigon” was the best restaurant in New Jersey

  2. Great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Finally!!! We were waiting and waiting …………… For us “Little Saigon” was the best restaurant in New Jersey

  3. Great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Finally!!! We were waiting and waiting …………… For us “Little Saigon” was the best restaurant in New Jersey

  4. I just tried this restuarant and my brief review: Food: Fair
    Service: Poor
    I don’t know if I caught these folks on an off night but my party of five was looking forward to the experience and I think we each left feeling rather disappointed. With the profusion of good or great restuarants that we have in Montclair, Little Saigon will have to improve considerably if it hopes to survive.

  5. Fantastic food and wonderful people! My family was so happy that it reopened after the fire. If you had never been to the former location, you cannot appreciate the difference in size. Once this location has been open for awhile I am sure that the service will improve.
    Many blessings for good fortune and a great future.

  6. I just had a really poor experience at Little Saigon. After schlepping across town to place a to-go order, I’m turned away! Apparently, they decided to not take to-go orders this evening. I learned this after spending 10 minutes trying to flag down an amazingly inattentive wait/hostess staff.
    I have never been turned away from a restaurant when trying to place an order. I doubt I’d risk it again. Don’t bother with this place.

  7. Please note, when Little Saigon is busy, they do turn down “to-go” orders. They prefer to cater to the customers who are already at the restuarant and waiting 30+ minutes. Though I agree, they do not communicate this very well to their customers.
    In my humble Asian opinion, Asian food seems to taste best when it is freshly cooked!

  8. Tried to order over the phone for pickup but was told they are too busy and I should come in and eat? WTF?? Stupid MOFOs!!!

  9. Just went to Little Saigon with my wife and another couple. We were very excited about having a Vietnamese Restaurant in Montclair. While not exactly “foodies”, we love dining out together and have enjoyed the fare at most Montclair venues. Top fav’s are Tuptim Thai, Udupi Village, D’mitris, Aozora, etc.
    And in three words, our experience tonight at Little Saigon was unmistakably:
    WORST MEAL EVER.
    The evening was so disappointing, in fact, it is difficult where to begin. Lackadaisical staff is something I tolerate often but only when the food and/or atmosphere make it worth the non-service.
    Water glasses filled once during dinner. Only one of us were given a plate to eat from, while the rest of us ate from the serving dish. The meals trickled out one at a time over the course of 10 minutes.
    Again, we are all pretty forgiving of service. Most of us have worked in the industry and empathize with service employees. As long as the food is good, I can put up with anything.
    Food: I have never in my life wanted to send back a dish solely based on how it looked. But I came very close to it. My meal: Tofu with Mushrooms.
    What did I get?
    A mess of onion chunks and Del Monte Mushrooms STRAIGHT OUT OF THE CAN and a few slabs of crunchy, stale tofu.
    My wife’s meal (Tofu with Lemongrass) was actually Tofu with Onions. Or rather, ONIONS with some tofu. Not even a hint of lemongrass was present. We actually had to ask to make sure she got the right dish. Probably 3 complete ONIONS were served on her plate.
    The other couple fared slightly better. Tofu with Vegetables was praised – at least until immediate indigestion settled in. And pork was complained about furiously.
    After eating, the 4 of us all immediately felt sick, gaseous, nauseous, etc and vowed to never eat at this sub-bar dump again.
    Please: DO NOT EAT HERE. Everything about it was terrible. Save yourself the $50 and by canned vegetables and meat across the street at Pathmark – you’d be better off.

  10. THE SHORT VERSION:
    Avoid Little Saigon!
    THE LONG VERSION:
    We are fortunate to live in an area with many exceptional restaurants. Unfortunately, Little Saigon is NOT one of them. My wife and I had dinner there this past Friday night with another couple (who have also taken the time to post a review here).
    DISCLAIMER: We all appreciate good food but are not food snobs by any means. Having said that; mediocre would be far too kind an adjective for this grossly under-whelming dump.
    The two large dining rooms are largely décor-less and lack anything resembling atmosphere; a fact we could easily overlook if only the food were halfway decent.
    The summer roll appetizers were quite good, and left us with high hopes. These hopes would soon be dashed!
    One of the things I like most about Vietnamese and most Asian food is the fact that fresh vegetables are often abundant, and one of the pork dishes I was considering was listed on the menu as containing “vegetables”. When I asked what types of vegetables, I was told “just lettuce”. Having heard this, I decided I would simply order something with clearly defined ingredients. I opted for the BBQ sliced pork with mustard greens. What I received was a plate of completely overcooked greens in a swamp of bland, watery sauce, a smattering of gray pork shreds (the type you find in second rate takeout Chinese), and most prominently; an absurd quantity of barely cooked large onion slices.
    As our dishes were delivered to the table (one at a time, over the course of ten minutes!), it became clear that my tablemates had fared no better.
    The tofu with lemongrass consisted of tofu served not with lemongrass, but rather with a ridiculous quantity of onions and nothing else! My wife’s tofu and vegetables actually had a decent quantity of vegetables, but caused immediate indigestion (as a side note; there was no toilet paper in the restroom). The mushrooms in my friends’ mushroom-based dish were straight from A CAN! The water glasses were re-filled only once, and this was as we were leaving! I could go on, but I do not see the point.
    The bottom line: if they do not make a concerted effort to improve drastically, this place will not be around for long. I know I’m not going back any time soon.

  11. my stomach still hurts thinking about this.
    thank god, last night, i had Udupi Village. Awesome.

  12. My husband and I ate take out from there last Friday night. I understand that food is better eaten in the restaurant, but I have had Vietnamese food delivered to my office many times in NYC that was 100 times better. We both pronounced it subpar. Edible, but subpar. Will not be going back. Felt a little ill afterwards.

  13. Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again. Sevice was ridiculous. Main dish, salad, who ordered by, all came out in random order such that some appetizers and soup had to be canceled since some of the main dishes had already arrived. A so called spicy chicken with lemongrass sauce was anything but, as well as “wok” soup from underheating and overcooking. A tofu with vegetables was bland. Nothing I tasted was worth the money or the time or the randomness of arrival

  14. Food and service was great…
    Summer rolls were awesome with giant shrimp and just the right combo of lettuce and mint
    Grilled shrimp and pork with noodles was served with beautiful lettuce leaves to wrap, and the waiter was so sweet and showed us how to wrap, dip and eat it.
    Served with 2 great sauces , a peanut/hoisen and a vinegary sauce.
    The pork was marinated and grilled perfectly and was delicious. ALL IN ALL THE FOOD WAS GREAT AND CHEAP AND THE PEOPLE AND SERVICE WAS TERRIFIC

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