Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people immigrated to the United States after the Vietnam War. Many settled into communities such as City Heights, where they were surrounded by fellow Vietnamese, and reconnected to their family. The restaurant Hoai Hue was started by the Diep family soon after they moved to the area.
The Diep’s oldest son, Hiep Diep, is actively involved in the business. For a few years, Hiep’s mom ran a catering business from their small apartment. Hiep remembers assisting her in preparing Banh Bot Loc, a tapioca dumpling wrapped in banana leaves, which is still a popular dish at their restaurant. Within a month after Hiep’s father lost his job, the family opened Hoai Hue in the alley of a strip mall off of 48th Street and El Cajon Boulevard.
In comparison to other Vietnamese restaurants in San Diego, Hoai Hue’s cuisine is primarily sourced from the region of Hue, which is in the center of the country. It is a mountainous environment where people have a great appreciation for aromatic spicy and sweet flavors. Just smell and taste the condiments on each table at Hoai Hue, and you’ll understand the cuisine’s characteristics.
The region’s signature dish is a red beef broth soup, called Bun Bo Hue, which is certainly not for the faint of heart. It’s a mildly spicy noodle soup with a hint of lemongrass flavor, traditionally served with beef shank, tendon, pork leg and cubed pork blood. Of course, there are many other meat and seafood options for Bun Bo Hue, as well as other soup and noodle dishes on Hoai Hue’s menu that are loaded with delicious veggies and appeal to a less adventurous palette.
Another tasty menu option is Bun Tom Thit Nuong, which are barbecue pork patties served over a bed of vermicelli noodles with pickled carrots, pickled beets, mint leaves, lettuce, cilantro, green onions and peanuts.
After years of making due in a small restaurant off the beaten path, the family outgrew their space and sought out a prominent location at 4660 El Cajon Blvd. on the ground floor of the Asia Business Center in the heart of the newly-established Little Saigon district. Hiep feels fortunate to have grown the business from his parent’s apartment into a well-established restaurant. They also went from an exclusively Vietnamese customer base to an ever broadening clientele.
With a second generation of Vietnamese-Americans assimilating and introduce others to their culture and food, the diversity of the neighborhood has grown – and so have their businesses. Mom-and-pop establishments are being passed down to their children. While the tradition of the Vietnamese culture and cuisine are proudly being carried on, the range of options and the style in which the food is presented is more contemporary, forging the old and new together.