I must have walked past China Beach Vietnamese Bistrodozens of times without going in. It’s an unassuming little spot right next door to a corner liquor store and across the street from the Canal Club in Venice. I have always wondered whether it could be one of those divey, under-the-radar finds. Given that I live only a couple blocks away and have never heard any of my neighbors talk about it or seen any of them in there, I didn’t have high hopes. Still, you never know. Vic and I wanted to try something different, and we didn’t want to have to get in the car. I looked the place up on Yelp, and the reviews were unusually mixed, a five-star review, followed by a one star, averaging three overall. I asked my sister, a fellow Venetian, if she’d been there, and she said the soups were OK. So we decided to check it out.
I honestly wish we hadn’t. We spent only $22 on dinner, and it still feels like we were cheated. One Yelper had raved about the five spiced chicken so I ordered a plate that also included a fried egg, a salad and some rice. Vic ordered chicken pho, which is the Vietnamese version of chicken noodle soup. I must confess, Vietnamese is probably my least favorite of all the Asian cuisines I’ve tried. I have happily eaten my way through China, Thailand and Cambodia, and I’m a fan of Japanese, Korean, Indian, Singaporean, Malaysian and, occasionally, Filipino cuisine. Vietnamese food has always seemed a bit bland in comparison. There are exceptions, such as the excellent pho (tripe and all) at Pho Hua in Mountain View, Calif., or even the nice bowl of chicken pho I had earlier this year at a place named Absolutely Phobulous (seriously) when I was stuck in Encino after a meeting. But even when I lived just a couple blocks away from a Vietnamese neighborhood in Chicago, I only ate there two or three times, and in more than a decade in So Cal, I have never made the drive to the OC for the best stuff in the LA area.
Regardless of whether you’re a Vietnamese food buff or a novice, though, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could enjoy the chicken I was served. I don’t know what gives chicken that rubbery quality. Overcooking, maybe? Whatever it is, they have mastered the technique at China Beach. The chicken must not have been made to order because it came out in about about 5-10 minutes. The menu described the chicken as falling off the bone, but I had a hard time tearing the tough meat free. The side salad was basically bland iceberg lettuce with some carrot slices. The rice was … well … a pile of plain white rice. Vic wasn’t as unhappy with his pho. He described it as “standard” and “passable.” When I tasted it, the broth seemed too sweet, but he didn’t seem to mind.
In case you are thinking of checking it out for yourself, be forewarned, the tiny parking lot is a nightmare. There’s almost no way to head south when exiting that little lot. You’re better off parking somewhere else and walking. Better yet, take my advice and skip it altogether. It’s not worth the hassle. — Jenny