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Restaurant Review: Nong Lá Cafe

Nong Lá Cafe on Sawtelle Boulevard serves some tasty dishes, but sacrifices a degree of flavor for its dazzling aesthetic. The restaurant offers a variety of Vietnamese dishes including pho, bun noodle salads and banh mi. (Andrew Warner/Daily Bruin)

By Andrew Warner

October 5, 2017 8:25 am

Nong Lá Cafe’s Instagram is filled with images of tender rice noodles, savory broths and vibrant greens.

But looks can be deceiving.

While Nong Lá certainly offers some tasty meals, the food does not live up to its aesthetically pleasing social media. The restaurant serves plenty of beautiful meals, like its crisp and brightly colored bun noodle bowls and salads, but the appeal pretty much stops there.

The small restaurant is tucked in between Tsujita LA and SushiStop on Sawtelle Boulevard. The shiny white walls and wooden tables lend the restaurant a cozy yet modern ambiance that is emblematic of the surrounding restaurants in Sawtelle.

The modernity of the restaurant’s design, combined with the phenomenally quick service, makes Nong Lá the perfect location for eaters who want to make it known on their social media accounts that they spent the day in Sawtelle. The bright lighting creates a pleasantly natural and bright atmosphere, making the location a prime spot for iPhone food photographers.

But unfortunately, the food feels a bit lackluster.

The highlight of the meal was Nong Lá’s Thai iced tea. Not overly sweet or syrupy like some restaurants and coffee shops’ Thai iced teas, Nong Lá’s tea leaves the tastebuds feeling refreshed with its light sweetness.

As far as actual food goes, the restaurant offers a wide range of fresh Vietnamese dishes, including pho, bun noodle salads and banh mi. Nong Lá certainly prides itself on quality – the dishes are gorgeous, with plenty of bright colors and fresh vegetables on every plate.

Nong Lá’s bun noodle salad feels a touch greasier than the noodle bowls of other Vietnamese restaurants. The rice noodles had an unexpectedly oily and heavy flavor that was a bit jarring. But perhaps the most disappointing part of the bun noodle salad is the very element that makes it so Instagram-able – the fresh vegetables.

The greens and cucumber certainly add a lightness to the dish that cuts through the overly greasy noodles, but the ratio of raw vegetables to the rest of the dish is regrettably high. Customers who order a bun noodle salad will find that they quickly run out of toppings and noodles to complement the bowl’s greens, and will end up spending the bulk of their time trying to munch down the forest of lettuce and herbs left in the bowl.

It is quite disappointing to look forward to a filling, carb-loaded noodle bowl, only to receive a dish filled mostly with lettuce and herbs.

The rice plates make for a lighter, less greasy option without all of the greens. They aren’t anything special though – other Vietnamese restaurants have equally pleasing rice plates without the expensive $11.50 price tag. Similarly, the salad rolls make for a tasty appetizer, though it’s not difficult to find good salad rolls around town.

Nong Lá sacrifices a degree of flavor for its dazzling aesthetic, so students should try one of the better Vietnamese restaurants in Los Angeles.

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Andrew Warner | Daily Bruin senior staff
Andrew Warner is a Daily Bruin senior staff reporter. Warner was the editor of The Quad during the 2018-2019 school year and an assistant editor for the Music | Arts beat of Arts during the 2017-2018 school year. Before that, he was an Arts reporter during the 2016-2017 school year.
Andrew Warner is a Daily Bruin senior staff reporter. Warner was the editor of The Quad during the 2018-2019 school year and an assistant editor for the Music | Arts beat of Arts during the 2017-2018 school year. Before that, he was an Arts reporter during the 2016-2017 school year.
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