Veggie World is a restaurant which confuses me in several ways. First, its name, which in English says “Veggie World,” yet in Chinese characters, says “Vegetarian Fragrance Garden” or 素香园. I’m not sure why they needed to include the word for “fragrance” in their Chinese name because it doesn’t really make sense. Also, how did ‘garden’ turn into ‘world?’ Second, it’s in the middle of Monterey Park, has Chinese characters on its sign, and its decor is Chinese, yet our waitress couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin, nor Cantonese, nor English — she was Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese part makes sense after noticing the neon sign in the window that says “Pho” and seeing that their menu does indeed have a section full of Vietnamese noodle soups. Naturally, I ordered the vegetarian beef pho. The BF ordered the bun bo hue. We split an appetizer of fried spring rolls.
When the spring rolls showed up, I was taken aback. They were cigarette-thin sticks and the wrapper wasn’t what I expected. The wrapper was more Chinese style instead of the Vietnamese styled rice paper wrapper. Luckily, the filling was decent. I just wish there was more of it and that it was in a fried rice paper wrapper. Sitting next to the garnishes that they’re meant to be eaten with, the rolls looked comically small. The sauce it came with, while good and had some chili pepper in it, was a tad too sweet. I was also searching for the usual pickled radish and carrot garnish that accompanies Vietnamese eggrolls, but was sad to see none on the plate.
The bun bo hue that the BF received looked alright. The noodles were sufficiently springy and slick, but the key feature of the dish, the broth, was lacking. Now I understand that it’s not going to taste like real bun bo hue that has meat in it, but this one just didn’t have much depth.
Unfortunately, my pho didn’t fare much better. If the restaurant had named this dish anything other than pho, I would have been fine with it. Heck, they shouldn’t even mislead people into thinking this was pho with a bright neon ‘pho’ sign in the window! When I think about pho, I think of the fragrant broth full of star anise, charred onion, fennel, other herbs and spices and last but not least, beef. I expected none of the beef flavor in a vegetarian version of the dish, but my bowl also had none of herbs and spices that are crucial in pho. Veggie World’s version just tasted mushroom-like and sweet. Because the broth was so light and sweet, the faux beef pieces ended up being bland and unexciting instead of soaking up some flavor that would have come from the herbs and spices. At least the noodles weren’t clumped together like they had been sitting around cooked for a while.
I was excited to try out a new vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant so close to my parents house. Ever since I learned that Thuyen Vien closed down for the time being, I had been thinking there should be more veggie Vietnamese places that serve good renditions of traditionally meat-filled dishes. While eating at Veggie World, I realized through eavesdropping that they probably specialize not in the Vietnamese noodle soup dishes, but more on the fake meat dishes like vegetarian Beijing (Peking) Duck. It’s not fair to judge a restaurant on its initial month of opening, so I’ll probably end up going back another time to try out some other, hopefully more successful dishes. Supposedly, this is the same restaurant that was a bit east in Rosemeade, so maybe once they iron out the details of moving, the food will get better.
321A W Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754