Âu Lac is a plant-based Vietnamese restaurant originally starting Fountain Valley, CA in 1997 by Mai Nguyen. After overcoming serious illnesses by adopting a plant-based diet, Nguyen decided to spread awareness for healthy food in the community.
Chef Ito joined the team in 2001, and many more dishes were added to the menu to include gluten-free, raw, and nut-free options as well. In 2015, Mai’s daughter Linh Nguyen opened up a branch of the restaurant in the Downtown LA area, where I went last night.
They offer a wide variety of different dishes of rice, wraps and noodles, with very realistic plant-based meats and fish. From sushi to rainbow flan, their menu offers something for everyone’s taste palettes.
There’s a small amount of parking available for those visiting Âu Lac, but Mitchell and I walked since we’re only about a mile away. The restaurant is set in a cute plaza with some artsy fountain statues and some other coffee shops and restaurants nearby. Their sign and glass walls really attract the eye, and the name of the restaurant itself also sets it apart.
Through our dinner, the speakers played 80s love ballads, including the main song from Titanic. It was hard not to sing along, but for Mitchell’s sake, I held it in. The lighting is low and ambient, and the waiters and waitresses were super friendly when we got in and when we left. Our waiter was kind of a hoot, obviously liking a lot on the menu and wanting us to try all that we could.
We started out with the Eggrolls, stuffed with vermicelli noodles, mushrooms, carrots, taro, jicama, and almond filling. On the side were lettuce and mint, while the sauce was like a clarified sweet and sour sauce.
The sauce was a little too thin for the rolls, and we had a lot left over, but the Eggrolls were hot, savory, and satisfying. The flaky, crispy shell had the perfect consistency paired with the mixture of soft filling. I only wish we had gotten four, so we didn’t have to split the last one.
Also, yes we ate the lettuce like the monsters we are.
For one of our entrees, we got the Garlic Basil Noodles. The red sauce swirled around the plate is a non-GMO sriracha sauce. The noodles themselves were a combination of pine nuts, apple sage sausage, spiced olive oil, nutritional yeast, lacinato kale, and Thai basil. All mixed into perfectly cooked rice noodles. The spices were wonderful and there were full cloves of roasted garlic throughout the dish that bursted sweet and savory flavor with each bite.
Though the garlic and sausage were very flavorful, maybe it was just the combination of the two entrees, but this one felt a little one-dimensional to me. Mitchell really seemed to enjoy it though. We’re both big garlic fiends.
The second dish we got was a hot ramen noodle soup made with slices of plant-based chicken and shrimp so real you wouldn’t believe it was somehow made from plants. It also had thick pieces of baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, Chinese chives, and a fat mushroom-stuffed wanton.
The broth in this dish was absolutely incredible. It reminded me of a upscale onion soup, but full of savory fishy undertones. I was kind of disappointed that I only got one wanton in the entire soup. But I left pleasantly full and satisfied.
It takes a lot to impress me at upscale restaurants that serve entrees I’ve gotten for a lot cheaper at other places. But I was very surprised at the good potions and the great tasting faux meats.
Though our waiter was quirky and nice, he wasn’t super attentive, and we lacked water for most of our meal. The prices are moderately high at this restaurant with entrees ranging from 13-17 dollars for medium-sized portions. Our three Eggrolls were $6 dollars. But the place is very upscale and the experience is meant to be an elevated take on Vietnamese cuisine, so the prices match this business model pretty well.
The bench we sat in was a very “couple-y” booth, with a long pillow for lumbar support and the experience to sit next to each other and watch the restaurant without looking weird.
We didn’t end up having dessert, but they have a lot of options ranging from Baklava to Rainbow Flan. The desserts are also a decent price, and I would consider going back and trying them sometime.
Also a dog randomly got in the restaurant from the patio area and was running around the place for several minutes before his owner came in to grab him. Not really anything to do with the restaurant itself, but just a fun experience.
All in all, I wouldn’t come here all the time, but it was a nice experience and I’ll definitely be back.
Link to their website: http://www.aulac.com.
DTLA: 710 West 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
Fountain Valley: 16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, CA 92708
DTLA: Monday – Friday 12 pm-3 pm, 5 pm-10 pm
Saturday – Sunday 12 pm-10 pm
Fountain Valley: Tuesday – Sunday
Lunch 11:33 am-3:33 pm
Dinner 5:33 pm-9:33 pm