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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review


R: In all the years we have been reviewing vegetarian restaurants, we never expected to find a totally vegetarian restaurant nestled inside a tofu factory. Because one of our readers gave Vinh Loi an enthusiastic evaluation, we decided to journey to the heart of Reseda to see for ourselves.

Z: Vinh Loi's main focus is their tofu and soymilk factory on the premises. Open for only a year and a half, they regularly receive requests from vegan restaurants wanting to purchase tofu. They also take pride in preparing 21 exceptionally tasty items for take out that include spring rolls, soups, entrees, fried tofu, and even a tofu custard for dessert.

R: Our joy was in discovering we could sit at one of the two small round tables and feast on the best vegan Vietnamese vittles we had ever encountered. Most of the dishes are vegan with the exception of two that contain whey.

Vinh Loi Restaurant Z: Owner Kevin Tran learned to make tofu and soy milk under the guidance of a Japanese tofu master. His wife, Lynne, and his father, Hoa, serve their steady take-out customers, while Lynne sometimes doubles in the kitchen preparing the food items.

R: Since we encounter Vietnamese food infrequently, we were delighted that Lynne, a thoroughly genial host, gave us the welcome-wagon tour of the menu items that hang on the wall as colorful, framed photos. She spoke with pride as she suggested we try their #1 Bun Bo Hue and the #5 Bun Bi Cha Thit Nu'ong. Thank goodness for the numbers--we would need a class in Vietnamese to master the pronunciation of the dishes.

Z: Lynne warned us the #1 was spicy, but we scoffed and said we could handle it. Well, she wasn't kidding! Along with our hearty servings, she delivered glasses of ice water she predicted we would need. "I'm afraid you might get heartburn," she laughed. Both items we ordered were large bowls of noodle-based soups with generous portions of exotic add-ins, each bowl uniquely different.

R: The broth for #1 was flavorful, zesty, and totally addictive. When Lynne described the process for making their broth, we were in awe. The #1 takes 18 hours of cooking to achieve its exceptional depth of flavor. Along with noodles, there were large chunks of tofu, veggie chicken, cilantro, shiitake mushrooms, little pieces of wheat gluten, chiles, lemongrass, ginger, and veggies. A side dish heaping with bean sprouts, finely shredded red and green cabbage, sprigs of fresh mint, and purple basil accompanied the soup. These could be added to the soup or eaten as finger foods.

Z: The #5 was equally as delicious, not spicy, and uniquely different with a rich flavorful broth and thin rice noodles on the bottom of the bowl. Sections of shredded cucumber, carrots, daikon radish, green leaf lettuce, strips of veggie beef, shreds of fried tofu, and crushed peanuts filled the bowl to its rim. This wonderful combination came with Crispy Fried Egg Roll stuffed with tofu and tiny shreds of carrot, potato, and taro and was served with a sweet, light dipping sauce of coconut juice and chile.

R: As we wrestled with our evasive, slippery noodles, we laughed. Thank goodness this is a very relaxed and informal setting with a steady stream of take-out customers who hardly noticed us. When Lynne wasn't busy, she chatted with us. Vinh Loi, we learned, is a Vietnamese version of the Chinese Wing Loi meaning "the customer always comes back."

Z: And that we did! The food was so irresistible we returned for another delectable lunch. This time we brought a friend with a yen for spicy foods. Without hesitation, he ordered the #1 and was soon a very contented puppy patting his thoroughly full tummy.

R: Since we were now "experienced diners" at Vinh Loi, Zel and I decided to share the #3 Hu Tieu, knowing the bowl would contain a generous serving. We also ordered the #20 spring rolls called Goi Cuon that were stuffed with rice noodles, veggie chicken, veggie shrimp, fried tofu, and mixed greens and served with a sweet, thick peanut sauce.

Z: Our #3 was another Vietnamese treat, a delicately sweet broth with a base of daikon radish and jicama simmered for 12 hours to achieve its exceptional flavor. Among the rice noodles were a myriad of tasty morsels including fried tofu, thinly sliced veggie chicken, veggie shrimp, bean curd stick, shiitake mushrooms, and an ample serving of fried red onion that lent distinctive flavor to the broth.

R: Curious about dessert, we tried the #17 Dau Hu Du'ong La Du'a Va Nu'oc Cot Du'a. Don't worry, we can't pronounce it either, but we certainly did enjoy this sweet, light-as-air, almost ethereal tofu custard with ginger syrup that is always served hot. Lynne explained that since the custard does not contain preservatives, it could only keep for two hours. That's really fresh!

Soup Birds Z: Valley diners who enjoy Asian cuisine will appreciate the exceptional homemade quality of Vinh Loi's preparations. The restaurant's intent is concentrated on take-out meals and their freshly made first-rate tofu and soymilk rather than serving sit-down meals.

R: The portions are so generous; one bowl was ample for the two of us, especially when we supplemented it with an order of their delicious spring rolls and peanut sauce. Compassionate and caring, the Trans use beet sugar to sweeten their sauces and desserts like the Sticky Rice with Coconut and Yellow Mung Bean and their Tofu Custard with Ginger Syrup.

Z: Along the expanse of one wall we noticed a tall baker's rack with packages and cans of Asian products for sale like Mushrooms and Gluten, Vegetarian Mushroom Sauce, dried shiitakes, tropical fruits, and a number of sauces. The opposite wall was the take out zone with a refrigerated case that displayed a variety of soymilks in different sizes along with containers of gluten and other veggie meats.

R: Fortunately, neither of our visits occurred on days when Vinh Loi is swamped with orders. Lynne told us that on three days of each month, Buddhist monks and nuns are required to eat vegetarian foods. On those days, Vinh Loi is the choice of many Buddhists, while its bustling kitchen works at a frantic pace to prepare for the extra business.

Z: Reuben, always cost conscious, shakes his head in amazement at the reasonable prices listed. The large noodle bowl entrees are only $5, an order of spring rolls is $2.50, and Tofu Custard is a mere $1.75. Customers of Vinh Loi Tofu are indeed the winners here.

18625 Sherman Way, #101, Reseda, Ca 91335
Phone: 818-996-9779
Hours: Daily 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Inexpensive

Reviewed October 2004

Click here for past Dining in Paradise reviews


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