Welcome Guest | Register | Login

Little Saigon in Upper Darby


Photo by Jessica BeymLittle Saigon is a big secret in Upper Darby.

The unassuming storefront-style Vietnamese restaurant in a rather ethnically diverse section of this Philadelphia suburb is easily missed — its nestled among other eateries and shops boasting flavors of Mexico, India, and Korea.

During a recent trip to Upper Darby to catch a concert at the Tower Theater, a good meal was definitely on the agenda before our night began. After doing a bit of research for an affordable BYOB, Little Saigon became our destination.

It’s not flashy or spacious by any means, offering only about 10 tables. Before entering, we scouted out a few of the other restaurants on the block and found Little Saigon had the most patrons, with maybe only five tables filled when we arrived at around 6:30 p.m.

We were greeted warmly by the owners and immediately given a seat at one of the small glass-covered tables with burgundy cloths. Chopsticks come first here, silverware later. Paper napkins and plastic reusable chopsticks adorned the tables along with a few select condiments — hot sauce and plum sauce.

The crowd already seated was just as diverse as the neighborhood — some older diners in their late 40s with a few bottles of wine, women in their mid-20s (who we assumed were probably going to the same show we were), a single man off in the corner and a group of younger Asian kids.

Photo by Jessica BeymWe took our time pouring over the long menu with me never having eaten Vietnamese before and my cousin being experienced with it after traveling through Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries last year.

The menu was extensive, offering a long list of appetizers, a huge variety of traditional Vietnamese soups, fried rice and noodle dishes, and other house specialties. Everything was extremely affordable with starters being offered for under $7, rice vermicelli dishes with meat under $7 as well, and most entree-sized or sharing portions of noodles or rice being anywhere from $8 to $13.

Starters included Cha Gio (spring rolls), Banh Xeo Tom Thit (Vietnamese crepes with shrimp and pork), Chom Tho (shrimp skewered on sugar cane), and Bo Nuong La (grilled beef on grape leaves.)

We opted on the $3.95 shrimp and pork rolled in rice paper, called Bi Cuon. The two rolls were pretty large, served warm, with small shrimp and pieces of pork, rice noodles and shredded lettuce wrapped in a gummy sheet-like rice noodle. Peanut sauce for dipping was offered on the side. Small salads of iceberg lettuce, bean sprouts and a thick ginger dressing were also brought to the table.

Should we start with rice vermicelli noodles sautéed with lemongrass and chicken for $6.25? Indulge in one of the traditional meal-in-a-bowl soups that Vietnam is famous for, including ones with beef tendon? Or what about trying Cu Lao Thop Com - a combination of vegetables, shrimp, chicken, pork and squid all cooked in a hot broth and served in a large pot for $12.95? We decided to share one of Little Saigon’s specialty soups — Bun Rieu, a tomato, crab and shrimp, with vermicelli noodle soup for $5.75.

It came out in a massive bowl with two smaller cups for sharing and a side dish of bean sprouts. It was loaded with soft vermicelli noodles and a thin, translucent red broth accented by the tomatoes and given a rich flavor from the crab and shrimp that permeated the soup. It hit the spot on the cold icy night and made me intrigued to come back and try some of the other traditional soups. With such a large, affordable and filling portion, it could easily have been a full meal.

But we weren’t done yet! Our gracious host advised us to share our meals right down the middle and after debating on a third course, she suggested the Tom, Ga Hay Heo, Ram Gung — a choice of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp sautéed with ginger and fresh vegetables and served with rice for $8.95.

We were served a heaping plate of hot, freshly sautéed chicken and vegetables like broccoli carrots and onion, loaded with julienned strips of ginger. It was accompanied by a side dish of white rice — all an excellent sized portion to share with two or more. Plenty to take home and nosh on after the show.

The only complaint I could muster up would be that the food came out at a much slower rate than we hoped for, but that was only because we were in a rush to make the show. On any other night without a deadline, the pace would have been perfect, giving diners a chance to talk, enjoy their BYOB wine and work up an appetite for the next dish.

Throughout the meal, the owners continued to check back with us, making small talk about their business, which was definitely booming that night. Halfway through our visit, the entire place was filled, and the owners told new guests there’d be a wait of 20 minutes or more. It was a good thing we didn’t come any sooner — the owners said a group of 14 of the band members performing at Tower that night ate there earlier. I guess we definitely picked the right spot.

If the food doesn’t impress, the hospitality of the owners likely will. One of the best parts of the experience? - Our bill was cheaper than buying two large beers at the concert.



Little Saigon

113 Fairfield Avenue

Upper Darby, PA 19082-2309

(610) 352-1002



Open Tues-Thu 11am-9pm;
Fri 11am-10pm;
Sat 4pm-10pm;
Sun 4pm-9pm