My Lai Kitchen – Mar Vista

My Lai Kitchen in Mar Vista puts a Vietnamese twist on the build-your-own bowl concept. Taking its name from Mỹ Lại, meaning a mixed race American and Vietnamese child in Vietnamese, it’s the “baby” of a Vietnamese/American couple, Shad Davis and Traci Phan Davis, with cuisine reflecting that blend.

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(Photo taken pre-pandemic)

This fast casual restaurant on Venice Blvd. features build-your-own bowls ($13) and banh mis ($10), along with salads, spring rolls and egg rolls. You choose a base (garlic rice, brown rice, vermicelli noodles or salad), a protein (pork, chicken or tofu, extra charge for beef or vegan Impossible pork), toppings (like sunomono cucumbers, pickled cabbage and crispy garlic) and then a sauce. It’s the Vietnamese answer to Chipotle.

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I visited once when they first opened pre-pandemic and again more recently. The ingredients are fresh and seem pretty healthy. I enjoyed my second visit even more, thanks to a larger serving of mint and Thai basil in the bowl, which helped give it more of a Vietnamese flavor.

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When they had opened, there wasn’t a vegetarian protein option, and adding the Impossible pork cost an extra $4. It was my first time trying the vegan pork, and it was interesting, more like a ground meat sausage, but made the bowl pricey. Since then, they’ve added a crispy tofu option at no extra charge.

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The servings are pretty hearty, especially when compared to a poke bowl at the same price point. The garlic rice, which is their most popular base, is a solid choice and is totally worth the carb splurge (and bad breath). 

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When outdoor dining returns, there’s a nice patio space in back to enjoy your meal. While Chipotle may have made the personalized bowl popular, I’d rather order one of My Lai’s Vietnamese any day.

Location –12222 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles 90066
Website – https://www.mylaikitchen.com
Kid’s Menu – No
Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly – Yes
Gluten-Free Options – Yes

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