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Golden Deli: A Vietnamese Restaurant in San Gabriel Since 1981

11:25 AM PST on January 21, 2016

Welcome to the second edition of SILVER, a celebration of businesses in Los Angeles that have been open for 25+ years. Tien Nguyen takes you inside spots which have helped define our city, even if they are hidden gems whose influence extends to the neighbors they’ve served for a generation…

At Golden Deli, the Vietnamese restaurant in a strip mall on Las Tunas in San Gabriel, there is always a line. Whether you show up for breakfast pho at 10 a.m. or for a late lunch of banh mi and egg rolls at 2 p.m., whether it's a Tuesday or a Saturday, there will be a line. If you've made the mistake of showing up here on a Wednesday, excited to actually find a parking spot in this cramped lot, you'll find a handful of people lingering outside the restaurant, cursing themselves, as you soon will be, for forgetting that the restaurant is closed on Wednesdays. This will be a lesson learned, and you won't show up here on a Wednesday again, until you do. Some things never change.

Golden Deli opened in 1981. Just a year earlier, the 1980 census reported that Asians were less than 10% of the population of the city of San Gabriel (percentage of the population that was white: about 52%). The proceeding years saw a change in the local demographics, and at last count, nearly 61% of the city’s population are Asians, which mirrors a decades-long population shift in other parts of the San Gabriel Valley. What hasn’t changed much, though, is Golden Deli’s popularity: it was as crowded then (“Saturday afternoons, the line spills out the door,” Jonathan Gold wrote back in 1992) as it is now. Given that, and the fact that Golden Deli is located in a part of town that sees restaurants open and close more often than you get an oil change, you might consider Golden Deli’s nearly 35 years in business not just an accomplishment. It’s a downright feat.

Golden Deli Mi Bo Vien
Golden Deli Mi Bo Vien
Golden Deli Mi Bo Vien

What you’ll find at Golden Deli is a little bit of everything, not unlike how your favorite diner serves a little bit of everything. And not unlike your favorite diner, Golden Deli does what it does with such reliability and consistency that you can see how easy it is to become a regular here. The some 100 things on the menu are subdivided into roughly 16 categories, and most everything in each category will satisfy whatever you’re craving: there are rice plates with grilled pork; generous bowls of bun; chicken curry served with toasted banh mi; huge bowls of egg noodle soup with meatballs bobbing in the broth (mi bo vien). The banh mi is a fine one, a two-fister that will arrive warm and toasted, nestled in a woven basket. There’s pho here, of course, with brisket and rib eye. Apparently, Golden Deli decided to pass on the filet mignon pho trend.

Golden Deli Egg Rolls 1-2

As much of a reliable generalist that Golden Deli is, it has rightfully earned much acclaim for one thing in particular: its egg rolls. These are pretty much the standard bearer for egg rolls in L.A.; the only ones that are better, probably, are the ones that your mom makes for the new year. In fact, some people come in and order just the egg rolls, which might not be a bad idea the next time your diet allows for a cheat day. It’s filling enough: they will arrive blistered and golden brown, five to a plate, filled with minced pork. A plate of herbs and bean sprouts and a bowl of dipping sauce, nuoc cham, will arrive, too. You can forego the greens altogether, as kids often do, and just go for the roll. In any case, they’ll shatter beautifully. You’ll reach for another.

Golden Deli Banh Mi

For dessert, maybe a cupcake? Because when she's not making Cookie Monster cakes, Thy Do makes a limited number of beautiful cupcakes for her family’s restaurant. Cupcakes at a Vietnamese restaurant are not as out of place as they may initially seem. It is almost 2016, after all. You can have your pho and egg rolls and cupcake and eat them, too.

Golden Deli, 815 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 308-0803, http://www.goldendelirestaurant.com/

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