BELLINGHAM - La La Eatery opened about three months ago in the bustling little Sunnyland Square shopping center that includes Trader Joe's.
That means parking can be a bit of a hassle, but the budget-priced Vietnamese delicacies available there make the effort worthwhile.
La La is owned by Joyce Chen, who also operates La Patisserie on Northwest Avenue. La Patisserie has been providing excellent Vietnamese food in an unpretentious setting for years without ever getting as much renown as it would seem to deserve. It's one of those "best-kept-secret" sort of places.
La La is equally unpretentious, and equally worth knowing about. This is a no-frills, walk-up place where you get your own fork, paper napkins and soda, and order your food at the counter.
The pho menu includes 11 choices, including one made with tofu and vegetarian broth for the meat-averse. Besides the more familiar beef noodle-and-broth varieties, there is also a seafood pho, $10.95, with shrimp, scallop and squid, and a roasted duck pho with egg noodle in ginger broth, also $10.95. (I want to try that one on my next visit.)
For our recent lunch, we started with a plate of five potstickers, $5.95, which were the deep-fried, crispy type. Then we tried a $2.50 humbow, a Chinese pork meatball steamed inside a bread-like dough.
Legend says humbow was invented by the third-century scholar and military strategist Zhuge Liang, and I know this is true because it is on the Internet. You have got to admire a guy who can find time to invent tasty Chinese appetizers while plotting battles and scrutinizing scrolls. A little Sriracha or hoisin from the condiment table will jazz this one up nicely.
A great budget choice for a main course would be any of the "noodle salad bowl" choices, all $8.95: beef, pork, lemongrass chicken, honey shrimp, tofu or eggroll. The server at the counter was happy to accommodate us with a beef, pork and shrimp combo plate, with the skewers atop a nice mound of fine rice noodles with lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, cilantro and peanuts. A vinaigrette dressing was served on the side.
The meats were nicely grilled until they were a bit crispy, but not dry, thanks to a rich, slightly sweet marinade.
Our other choice was coconut curry chicken stew, $10.95. It was a generous bowl of warmly curry-seasoned coconut milk with grilled chicken chunks, red bell pepper and broccoli, with a side of steamed rice. It was a perfect spirit-lifter for a cold, wet spring day.
La La also has six banh mi sandwiches, each $7.95.
At a time when Thai food options are proliferating around town, it's nice to see the subtle dining delights of Vietnam starting to gain popularity here as well. Next time you're braving the crowd at TJ's, you might enjoy combining it with a La La lunch.
LA LA EATERY
Address: 2430 James St.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Price range: $8-13
Reach JOHN STARK at email@example.com or call 715-2274.