Tasting Notes: Meet the good Samaritans of Little Saigon feeding the needy

Nhi Huynh, Huong Pham, Kim Huynh and Viet Pham in their restaurant with about 600 packaged Han Vi meals they prepared
Nhi Huynh, Huong Pham, Kim Huynh and Viet Pham stand with about 600 Han Vi meals his family prepared for handing out to the needy at the family’s restaurant, The Recess Room, in Fountain Valley on Jan. 24. The family has spent their savings feeding those who need a nutritious gourmet meal since last March; they have donated about 60,000 meals.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Chefs and restaurateurs have been scrambling to keep their businesses alive during the last year, whiplashed by a long cycle of openings, shutdowns, partial reopenings and a spate of conflicting directives issued by government officials. They’ve set up outdoor dining spots, only to have to close them a few weeks later and switch to takeout and delivery only — anything to stay afloat and employ as many people as possible.

I’m Alice Short, the interim food editor at The Times, and today I’m subbing for our restaurant critics, who are on assignment.

One of the big stories in Food this week focuses on chefs, restaurateurs and others who are using their superpowers to help people in need: Anh Do profiled some of the good Samaritans who are preparing meals and delivering staples for seniors and others in Orange County’s Vietnamese communities.

One of them is Viet Pham, who owns the Recess Room restaurant in Fountain Valley. Pham and his family have joined with community organizers, donors and volunteers to offer nearly 60,000 free meals since the start of the pandemic.

A mother and son, wearing masks, prepare large trays of food in a restaurant kitchen
Kim Huynh and her son, Viet Pham, cook and prepare meals for handing out to the needy.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Anh also writes about Vietnamese home cooking and meal services, which are thriving. Customers like Kim Xuyen Ngo are buying dishes such as the glutinous rice cakes known as banh chung, a seasonal staple.

“The beauty of living where we live is you can take advantage of all the culinary delights around you,” said Ngo, a social worker with two young children.

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Pancit Chami with prawns from Kuya Lord
Pancit Chami with prawns from Kuya Lord.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Bill Addison has spent some time sampling the cooking of Lord Maynard Llera, who runs the Kuya Lord pop-up out of his home in La Cañada Flintridge. The verdict? “This is food of power and finesse and profound delight.” Try the kare-kare, a stew that’s a Filipino staple, or a Filipino-inspired version of porchetta made with pork belly.

— Bill also has been thinking about the Lunar New Year, which starts Feb. 12, and the rich heritage of poon choi, a one-pot feast grounded in centuries of Cantonese culture. “A dish that engenders togetherness,” he writes, “takes on new significance during a protracted global health crisis.”


Jenn Harris celebrates the crème brûlée cookies at Dough & Arrow in Costa Mesa. (She also has a few tips about where to get great takeout chicken wings, just in case you might be spending a lot of time in front of the TV on Sunday.)

— Speaking of the Super Bowl, don’t miss Ben Mims’ recipe for oven-baked nachos.

— For those of you who looking for the best frozen pizzas, Lucas Kwan Peterson has done all the legwork for you.

— Looking for some takeout pizza? Bill Addison has recommendations.

Two hands pulling apart a crème brûlée cookie from Dough & Arrow
A crème brûlée cookie from Dough & Arrow.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)