LA has forever been a city reliant on wheels, so it’s no wonder that we’ve recently become a city of meals on wheels.
The phenomenon that is the food-truck industry already is starting to feel a little flat. Call it the glut of competition or the yawn of the city’s fickle ways of perpetually living in the now, the food truck adventure may have already peaked amid a flurry of pedestrian offerings and copy-cat competition.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the lively cultural pairings of Korean kimchee quesadillas and Asian marinated meatballs as much as the next food degenerate, I just prefer them in a place where I can wash my hands before I sit on something other than a cement parking block.
Once the luster of finding the secret location wears off, the grubbers and stoners will soon realize that hunting and gathering amid LA’s traffic only to kick it to the curb and awkwardly munch a Phillly cheese steak while cars hiss by your open can of Dr. Pepper is really a drag. And now in the throes of summer, who dares triple digits for a diesel-fueled grilled-cheese sammy?
So it’s time to take it off the streets and return to the air-conditioned melting pots that move only when the health inspectors shut them down.
Xoia (pronounced Zoy-ya) is allegedly a rare blend of Vietnamese staple fare with subtle strokes of Mexican flavors. Located in Echo Park off Alvarado just as you turn right onto Sunset to head for Dodger Stadium, the place has a handful of casual dining tables and a slow, but smiling staff. The short menu has but three categories: starters, soups (pho) and sandwiches (banh mi).
The traditional staple of Vietnamese cooking starts and ends with their gothically rich bowls of beef soup. Pho (pronounced fuh, as in “what the fuh?”) is the essence of classic Vietnamese comfort food as indelible to their culture as Matzo ball soup is to every Jewish kitchen…and just as soothing.
In pho, beef bones and their rich marrow slowly seep through the simmering stew for hours until the unctuous beef fat gives way to a slick beefy broth that the owners of BP might admire. A hint of lime, a whiff of fish sauce and even a delicate waft of cinnamon or star anise gives the bowl a wealthy complexity of notes. Now dump in a heaping of thin noodles, an assortment of leafy veggies like Thai basil, bean sprouts and then your pick of beef – from thin ribbons of rare steak all the way down to spongy tripe.
Classic pho at most Vietnamese closets throughout the city fill you up right for under $5. At Xoia the four pho selections check in at a whopping $8.25. Granted the bowl is big enough to fill two, but sharing the slurping and drooling sensation that is Vietnamese soup tests the limits of friendship. Pho is a meal best flown solo. Additionally, Xoia’s bowls are standard non-variations on the classic Vietnamese dish. So where’s the Mexican influence?
Xoia has garnered quite the hype in local food blathers of late for its cross-cultural pollination (the husband/wife owners are of Mexican and Vietnamese descent respectively), yet there are precious few items that mix in a little south of the border flair. The starters include the standard shrimp and pork spring rolls found in every Far Eastern diner.
Only the pho beef tacos attempt something different. In this case, however, the “pho infused beef” is simply super salty chopped asada plopped onto a corn tortilla with cilantro and onions. No better and probably worse than most street tacos. And $5.75 for three tiny two-biters hardly seems worth the trek.
The other notable Mexi influence appears in one of the three banh mi sandwiches. Banh mi are crusty baguettes the size of small teenager’s forearm, sliced down the middle and filled almost always with pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro sprigs, cucumber spears and finely sliced jalapenos. Only the protein changes and, in Xoia’s case the choices are unique: chicken curry, tofu and mushrooms and, our choice for the afternoon, lemongrass pork carnitas.
Here is where the true meeting of east and west should really shine. Instead, the pork is stringy and dry as if it had been basking under a heat lamp most of the morning. The garlic aioli spread is really just salty mayo and the bread is a little too crispy, scratching the roof of your mouth with every bite.
The only true revelation is a chef’s secret “house made red salsa” where the multi-cultural flavors truly butt heads in the most pleasant way. According to our server, a tomato base binds two minced chilies — one Mexican (presumably arbol) and one Japanese to make a smoky, subtle and satisfying neuvo version of the fiery sambal chili paste found in most Asian restaurants. Unique and delightful.
Xoia has the kernel of a cool concept. But when a condiment garners the highest praise, the kitchen needs to re-group.
1801 W. Sunset Blvd.
LA, CA 90026
Note: Cash only