Now that Southern California winter has finally hit(that is a joke folks...); I can start making my rounds of the local Pho' restaurants again. Also, in addition I though I'd try the Bun Bo Hue at restaurants that I'd only had Pho' at and visa versa. Since I was in the neighborhood I decided to stop by Pho Hoa Hiep.
Pho Hoa Hiep, located in the same Linda Vista strip mall as Vien Dong Supermarket, can be somewhat hard to find. First off, the Restaurant is located in the far Northeast corner of the mall, away from Vien Dong, and across a Coin Laundry. Second of all, there's another Pho' eatery in the same strip mall called Pho' Hoa, which can cause some confusion.
I usually have the #4 at Pho Hoa Hiep, which is the well done steak, flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe. But I had heard from Howie of A Foodie's Eye View, and he had recommended the Bun Bo Hue as well. So I decided to get the Bun Bo Hue(small-$4.75):
Bun Bo Hue is a spicy, pork and beef vermicelli noodle soup, that originated in, where else, the city of Hue. Most of the Bun Bo Hue that I've had in Orange County, San Diego, and Los Angeles have been similar in several ways; the broth has almost always been a clear, fairly light broth dotted with chili oil, with spaghetti like vermicelli noodles, and always topped with cilantro and onions. Oh yes, and one more thing. It almost always comes with jellied blood; which I usually ask to not have added to my soup. I really don't enjoy the gritty texture and metallic taste of blood.
Where Bun Bo Hue differs from Eatery to Eatery are in the garnishes. In this case a "salad" of greens, along with cross sliced jalapenos and a wedge of lime accompanied my soup:
And of course the shrimp paste with chili oil is another staple of Bun Bo Hue, I use it to dip my meat in, and to flavor my noodles and broth.
So how was this? The broth was nice and light, and though there looked to be alot of chili oil in the broth, it was not as spicy as I expected it to be. The noodles were "cut" into short strands, but that made it much easier to eat. The noodles also were a bit on the mushy side.
The meat in Bun Bo Hue usually includes a thick cut "brisket" slices or other well flavored beef, as well as either a pig's feet or thick slice of pork leg. Pho Hoa Hiep delivered several slices of beef with a good amount of tendon, but overall quite tasteless. However, the slice of pork "leg" was very tasty and quite soft. Still, a pretty good bowl of Bun Bo Hue.
I also ordered the Goi Cuon(spring rolls - $2.80):
The spring rolls were "longer" then what I'm used to; almost 7-8" in length. Both the flavor of mint and a fairly large amount of shredded pork were very prominent as I took the first bite. These spring roll were much improved over my last visit.
During my latest visit, I reverted back to form and ordered a bowl of Pho'. Though this time I went with the extra large bowl of "Dac Biet"($4.75):
The Pho' broth at Pho Hoa Hiep, is much lighter and less "oily" then most other Pho' Shops, and very balanced in flavor. In many cases the flavor of ginger, anise, or cloves may stand out in a broth, at Pho Hoa Hiep, the flavor is slightly beefy, and you are really able to taste the pungent peppery-citrusy cilantro and the scallions. People who enjoy the Pho' at Pho Hoa Hiep call it "refreshing". I'm not quite sure if that's a particularly apt description, but there's one thing for sure; the Pho' here really depends on the garnishes:
Which includes lemon(?), bean sprouts, basil, and surprise(!) ngo gai(hallelujah). I rarely see ngo gai(saw-leaf herb) served with Pho in San Diego, so having it available is always a treat. Ngo gai has a taste much like a more pungent cilantro. Today, it really added nothing; I tore off a piece and had a taste, and it was much more "soapy" in flavor then what I'm used to. I added all the basil, ngo gai, and bean sprouts to my bowl of pho'. The noodles were the customary pho' noodles, clumped up in a bunch at the bottom of the bowl.
As for the meats, I now remember why I usually don't get the "rare steak" at Pho Hoa Hiep - it is extremely tough and dry. The tendon slices though, are cut to a nice width, and both crunchy and somewhat gelatinous to the bite.
Overall, not a bad bowl of Pho' and also not a bad price. Between Convoy Noodle House and Pho Hoa Hiep; I'd say it's a wash. Pho Hoa Hiep is also a bit cheaper. If you'd like to see what Bun Bo Hue in Vietnam looks like; Noodlepie has an example on his wonderful Blogsite that looks nothing like any bowl of Bun Bo Hue I've ever had. MEalcentric took a trip to Vietnam in August of last year and also did a post, and even posted photos. I've come to a conclusion regarding Pho' and Bun Bo Hue. Though many of the ingredients are the same, no two restaurants taste the same. I guess I'll just say "Pho', it's a state of mind"........
Pho Hoa Hiep
6947 Linda Vista Road
San Diego, CA 92111
9910 Mira Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92131