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A Real Meal for Under $4? It's True

The Vietnamese food is tasty; the prices are unbelievable at Dzora. Even the sub sandwiches are remarkable.

September 25, 1997|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dzora is an odd name, and a sly one, too. Pronounced dio-yay, as far as I can tell, it's said to mean "in and out," though the place doesn't actually sell hamburgers. What this Little Saigon gem does sell is remarkably good, laughably inexpensive appetizers, rice plates, noodle soups and Vietnamese-style submarine sandwiches (banh mi).

You can get the subs on a drive-thru basis. The first time I drove through, I tried the most American of them, the ham and cheese (on the menu, it's banh mi jambon et fromage), and it beat the usual ham and cheese sub in every department--something of a miracle, when you consider that, like most of the banh mi, it's only $1.49. You get a long, crusty French baguette (fresh daily from a nearby Little Saigon bakery) stuffed with Danish ham, Swiss cheese, tomatoes and onions, dressed with mayo and Dijon mustard. Sandwiches with roasted chicken (ga ro^ti), steamed ground pork (cha lua), a garlicky mortadella-like sausage (thit nguoi) or thinly sliced barbecued beef (bo nuong) are all the same price.

You'll have to duck inside the pint-sized doorway and seat yourself on the modest wood slat benches if you want to try the Vietnamese lunch dishes. Like the sandwiches, they're stunning bargains. Nothing on Dzora's menu tops $5.49; in fact, most dishes are well under $4.

An order of goi cuon, for instance, would make a great light lunch for only $2.49. Goi cuon are like cold spring rolls assembled out of raw and cooked ingredients. Basically, they're thin rice crepes wrapped around a small, harmonious orchestra of ingredients: lettuce, basil, mint, rice noodles, shrimp and Chinese-style barbecued pork. They're served with hoisin and chile sauces topped with a handful of crushed peanut.

Cha gio, also known as imperial rolls, are equally hard to resist. These cigar-shaped rolls, five to an order, are tightly packed with spicy minced pork, crab meat, celery, carrot shreds and transparent noodles. You wrap one up in a lettuce leaf along with some mint leaves, bean sprouts and the cilantro-like herb ngo gai and dip it in sweetened fish sauce.

The Vietnamese taste is for thin rice noodles, rather than wheat noodles. Dzora serves them topped with beef meatballs or barbecued shrimp or pork.

Naturally, Dzora serves pho dac biet, a beef noodle soup made with slender rice noodles and topped with thinly sliced beef, but you can get that anywhere on Westminster Avenue. I'd recommend the rice noodle soups called hu tieu instead. They use chewy noodles about midway between vermicelli and spaghetti in thickness. In hu tieu suong, the noodles come submerged in chicken broth along with fluffy square cakes of shrimp meat. In my personal favorite, hu tieu bo vien, the noodles are accompanied by a handful of garlicky beef meatballs.

Dzora's version of beef stew consists of big, tender pieces of anise-scented beef in a rich broth along with celery, onions, enormous chunks of carrot and even bigger pieces of white radish. Most diners have their stew with French bread, but it's also available with any of the noodles on the menu or even with steamed rice.

There are a number of "rice plates" on the menu, such as kung pao chicken. This is a classic Chinese kung pao, using fagara pepper instead of chiles, along with the usual peanuts, bell peppers and carrots. The kung pao shrimp is just as delicious. A purely Vietnamese rice dish is steamed broken-grain rice (com tam) served with such toppings as barbecued pork, shredded steamed pork and steamed pork tendon--or all three together, if you want (dish No. 41 on the menu). Com tam bi cha suon nuong is the same plus an eggy square of pork and shrimp cake.

All very well and good for grown-up palates, you say, but is there anything for unadventurous younger diners? Sure. Kids have no problem with com ga ro^ti, which is chicken roasted brown and crisp and served on fried rice.

Dzora has some wonderful drinks to accompany its food. Sinh to are icy fresh fruit shakes in flavors like jackfruit, strawberry and the exotically mushy soursop (otherwise known as guanabana). French-style cafe filtre is served in tall tumblers with too much condensed milk in the bottom of the glass, but the iced espresso really hits the spot, and you get a double for the now familiar price of $1.49.

Eat in or take out. Somebody ought to franchise this concept.

BE THERE

Dzora, 7360 Westminster Ave., Westminster. (714) 899-9993. Open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. No alcohol. Cash only. Takeout. Lunch for two, $5-$11.

What to Get: banh mi, goi cuon, imperial rolls, Dzora beef stew with French baguette, beef ball noodle soup, minced pork and seafood cake in broken grain rice.

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