An Insider’s Guide to Orange County’s Little Saigon

Where to shop, play, and munch on bánh cam in one of Orange County’s most interesting neighborhoods.

Westminster, Orange County, California

Orange County’s Little Saigon is home to the world’s largest population of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam—the majority are from South Vietnam.

Photo by Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

Between the cities of Huntington Beach and Irvine, Little Saigon boasts the largest Vietnamese American population outside of Vietnam itself. This thriving community—which has over 200,000 residents—formed shortly after the Fall of Saigon and the official end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Drawn by the warm Southern California climate and (at the time) cheap housing, recently arrived refugees from the former Republic of Vietnam flocked to the city of Westminster, where they began to open businesses and restaurants along Bolsa Avenue and Brookhurst Street. Westminster officials and then–California governor George Deukmejian designated the area as the Little Saigon Tourist Commercial District in 1988.

Over three decades later, Little Saigon’s borders have expanded into the neighboring cities of Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, and Santa Ana, and the district boasts thousands of thriving establishments with plenty of delectable restaurant options and places to shop. This guide to Little Saigon will give you pointers on where to go, what to do, and, most importantly, where to eat in this endlessly intriguing Vietnamese American neighborhood of Orange County.

Beef Pho

Pho is believed to have originated in Vietnam during the French Colonial era as an adaptation of pot-au-feu.

Photo by Artit Wongpradu/Shutterstock

What to eat

Phở 79

No trip to Little Saigon would be complete without a steaming bowl of phở. This unassuming neighborhood spot was thrust into the limelight after snagging a coveted James Beard Award in 2019, but Phở 79’s fragrant noodle soup has been drawing crowds since its opening in 1982 in Garden Grove, just east of Westminster. Prepare for a small wait before you can sample the beef broth, rich with fragrant, complex aromatics—be sure to top off your bowl with a healthy dose of bean sprouts, basil, and culantro. Pair it with a cup of strong cà phê sữa đá, or Vietnamese iced coffee.

Van’s Bakery

After polishing off a bowl of phở, head across the road for dessert. Packed with all sorts of treats, including traditional Vietnamese bánh da lợn (steamed layer cakes flavored with pandan), crispy, golden bánh cam (sesame balls), and European-style pastries and cakes, Van’s offers an array of flavors sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. Plan to arrive early, as many customer favorites disappear from shelves by the afternoon.

Tân Hoàng Hương

Tân Hoàng Hương Sandwiches sells dozens of Vietnamese dishes from locations all over Orange County, but most customers go in for the bánh mì. Visit the original Fountain Valley location on Euclid Street and try its barbecue pork and pâté bánh mì, which is topped with pickled veggies and fresh cucumbers and piled inside pillow-soft baguettes. Grab a strong iced coffee for a caffeine burst to stave off any potential carb coma.

Brodard Restaurant

The often out-the-door lines attest to the quality of Brodard’s fare. The menu covers Vietnamese cuisine from all over the country, including bún bò huế (a spicy beef soup that originated in central Vietnam) and bò kho (a beef stew that was heavily influenced by Chinese foodways), as well as fusion offerings like seared ahi tuna rolls and lemon pepper chicken. Plus, don’t forget to try Brodard’s renowned fresh spring rolls, the restaurant’s most popular dish.

Nếp Cafe

Nếp Cafe, a popular brunch spot, is best known for its cà phê trứng, or egg coffee, which consists of robusta coffee topped with a fluffy cap of whipped egg yolks and condensed milk—it’s creamy, sweet, and decadently delicious. However, its food options are nothing to sniff at either. Consider ordering the bánh mì chảo (a filet mignon platter), which can be garnished with a savory piece of bone marrow, or uni toast, which features sea urchin roe sourced from Santa Barbara.

Celebrating Tet in Little Saigon

There’s no shortage of things to eat or do during Tết, or Vietnamese Lunar New Year, in Little Saigon.

Photo by Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

What to do

Celebrate Tết

Chúc mừng năm mới! Tết Nguyên Đán (Vietnamese New Year) marks the most important holiday in the Vietnamese calendar, and local celebrations kick off with a bang in late January or early February depending on the lunar calendar. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, Phước Lộc Thọ shopping center (more on this place later) hosts an open-air flower market, similar to annual markets in Vietnam, to ring in the new year. The community celebrates with a Bolsa Avenue parade featuring lion dances, floats, and marching bands. The Union of Vietnamese Students Association also hosts an annual Tết Festival in nearby Costa Mesa, showcasing Vietnamese culture and food during one jam-packed weekend.

Museum of the Republic of Vietnam

Open Thursday through Sunday at the corner of Brookhurst and Bolsa, the Museum of the Republic of Vietnam is touted as the first and only institution in the world that focuses on the Republic of Vietnam. Also known as South Vietnam, the United States–backed nation formed alongside the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) following the 1954 Geneva Accord, which aimed to temporarily divide the country at the 17th parallel. However, North and South Vietnam remained separated over a decade of bloody warfare until a 1975 offensive ended the Vietnam War and established the current regime. Most residents of Little Saigon hail from what was once South Vietnam.

Pop by the museum to view the revolving exhibits or to listen to a lecture about the Vietnam War and the circumstances that brought hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants to Orange County. Admission is free, although donations are welcome.

Vietnam War Memorial

Visit the Sid Goldstein Freedom Park to see the local Vietnam War Memorial. The monument features statues of a South Vietnamese and an American soldier, with South Vietnam’s distinct striped flag and the U.S. flag flying above. Equipped with an eternal flame to commemorate those lost during the war, the memorial is the perfect spot to reflect on the intertwining histories of South Vietnam and the United States. There’s also a nearby playground to occupy younger visitors.

Phước Lộc Thọ

Opened by renowned developer Frank Jao in 1987, Phước Lộc Thọ, or the Asian Garden Mall, is one of Little Saigon’s oldest and most successful businesses. With over 200 stores under the mall’s iconic green roof, customers can purchase traditional medicines, custom áo dài clothing, and more here. On summer weekends, a bustling night market attracts visitors with street food like barbecue pork skewers and whole dried squid, as well as song and dance performances.

Chùa Điều Ngự Buddhist Temple

Although early waves of Vietnamese refugees predominantly practiced Catholicism, the prevailing religion of French-influenced South Vietnam, a substantial Buddhist population has since immigrated to the States and established a foothold in Little Saigon. Recently updated with pagodas, a traditional temple building, and a nine-foot-tall Buddha statue, Chùa Điều Ngự Buddhist Temple opens its doors both to Buddhists and novices seeking to learn more about the religion. Brave the crowds during Lunar New Year to watch special ceremonies and enjoy food from local vendors.

Phuoc Loc Tho Westminster, California

The Asian Garden Mall, or Phước Lộc Thọ, is one of the busiest establishments in Little Saigon with over 200 storefronts.

Photo by The Image Party/Shutterstock

Where to stay

Ayres Hotel

One of the top-rated hotels in the Little Saigon area, Ayres Hotel provides clean, comfortable rooms with a boutique flair. Take time to cool down at the pool, or catch the complimentary breakfast buffet to fuel your adventures for the rest of the day.

Book Now: From $230, expedia.com

Great Wolf Lodge

Located two miles from Disneyland in Garden Grove, the Great Wolf Lodge offers the perfect stay for families with little ones who might not want to spend their days exploring museums and shopping centers. Guests can unwind at the 14-slide indoor water park, soak in one of four pools, or participate in the many kid-friendly activities like dance parties and arts and crafts.

Book Now: From $300, expedia.com

Westminster, California

The easiest way to navigate Little Saigon is by car.

Photo by Matt Gush/Shutterstock

How to get there

Like much of Orange County, Little Saigon is best reached and navigated by car and is about a 45-minute drive from LAX (traffic permitting). Most destinations will have ample free parking spots, although you can also find street parking on busier days.

To get to Little Saigon via public transport, catch a ride on one of the Orange County Transit Authority’s bus routes. Coming from outside county lines? Amtrak and Metrolink trains make stops in the surrounding cities of Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Orange.

Cu Fleshman is a Vietnamese American writer and editor originally from the backwoods of South Carolina. She now resides in Southern California and has served as the editor in chief of Character Media since the fall of 2021.
More From AFAR