LE KIM's RESTAURANT
631 N. Center Street
Stockton, CA 95202
I've eaten at a lot of Vietnamese restaurants...I've hunted them high and low here in Southern California, always following recommendations by Jonathan Gold or friends that are "foodies". Unfortunately, none of them have surpassed the food here at this small hole in the wall joint in Stockton (Northern California) called Le Kim's. It's named after this immigrant couple's oldest daughter, Kim. Their last name is Le, and in Vietnamese, as in Chinese, the last name is always presented first. On the wall as you enter is a framed article from the Stockton Record about how this family immigrated from Vietnam by boat...a small one, and at the time, Mrs. Le was pregnant and stuck with morning sickness and throwing up over the side of the boat while they tried to get themselves and their children to a better world. It's an incredible story.
When you drive up to the joint, it's part of a motel. Admittedly the motel is a little sketchy, but the food in this place is absolutely divine. The decor is simple with things like empty soda cans that have been turned into fighter planes (no doubt some Vietnamese local craft that the Le family picked up on their visits back home). They have those fake flowers on the tables with the little clear plastic dew drops. Gotta love those.
What you come here for is the friendly service and the FOOD. They have the biggest vegetarian menu I've ever seen in a Vietnamese joint. Most Vietnamese restaurants I've been to pride themselves in the 7 courses of beef, beef this and that, pork this and that...etc.. Le Kim's actually has a vegetarian broth that they make that surpasses most broths I've had...and is damn on par in deliciousness to the Iron Chef Ramen broth I sampled at Morimoto's in NY. It's THAT good and looks just as simple. My friend Edwin, who is obsessed with clear broth, still dreams about this place. I normally order the Vegetarian Saigon Noodle with the broth on the side, and I always ask for an extra large bowl of the broth cuz I just can't get enough of it. A little bit of sriracha and a good stirring of this dish and I'm on my way to food heaven.
I've tried a lot of different dishes here...the sauteed vegetables over crispy noodles, the Charbroiled pork over rice noodle salad and imperial roll (their imperial rolls are SOOO good), the sizzling fish with dill and turmeric (AMAAAZING), the spring rolls, and have tasted many other dishes. It's all good, and they do have a great following from the downtown Stockton area during weekday lunch rush. They've recently stopped serving on Saturday and Sunday which bums me out since that's normally when I get a chance to visit Stockton, but this last time, I just extended my trip to leave after lunch on Monday. That solved it. <3