And another. And another. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted thịt nguội (Vietnamese cold cut, also called “ham”), chả lụa, or pâté, and I didn’t want to settle for the special ($3.20) which has all three, because that means there is less of each. Like a good girl I got all three ($2.75 each), then mixed and matched. Cha lua is nothing beyond expectation, smooth and pure, sliced as thin as chicken skin. To its left is the firm rosy thit nguoi, made from cured pork and fat strips, similar to pork belly. To its right is pork liver pate banh mi. The brown spread looks like nutella with pepper, feels grainy and silky on the tongue, and tastes magnificent. In one bite of oozing goodness, you can find something nutty, something sweet, a bit fatty and rich, a lot of salt, no sign of bitterness, all tempered by the mildly sour pickled carrots. Pork liver pate is my favorite.
Although most scoffers stay at Saigon Express for no more than 10 minutes, just enough time to grab a quick sandwich or a phở to-go, I dined in just to sample more food. Seemingly everyone comes here knowing what they want, I wonder if some of the dishes are forever hidden in the multipaged menu. I dug one out from the clay pot section: tofu and prawn claypot, served on white rice. For only $7.75, I can’t complain that its quality isn’t up to par with Le Regal’s ca kho to. There’s plenty of thin, almost broth-like sauce to soak your soft fried bean curd and wet your rice. The shrimps are plump. Mushy onion slivers encase tiny, juicy, salty outbursts.
Having stationed here for fifteen years, Saigon Express weathers the ebbs and flows of the competitive eatery market by setting its price low. The most expensive items are $7.75, easily portioned into two meals unless you’re preparing for football practice or something of sort. It also takes credit card.
Address: Saigon Express
2045 Shattuck Avenue (at the corner with Addison St, and in the same block as Biryani House)
Berkeley, CA 94704