There are times like this, when my avocation takes a back seat to my vocation. This past few weeks has been a challenge, finding time to eat, much less portioning out part of the day to post, sometimes took a bit of effort. It is during these times that I'm thankful for Cathy's help! I am doing well, and to quote Ed from Yuma, quoting Samuel Clemens, "the rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated". I'm still alive and kickin', if a bit tired.
I don't have enough fingers, and toes for that matter, for which to count the number of people I know who consider Pho HoaCali the best place in the greater San Diego for Pho. My personal favorite is Lucky Pho which is right across the street, but I wouldn't fault you for having Pho HoaCali listed as your favorite. My usual time for a visit is before 11am...and sometimes as early as 8 or 9, I love Pho for breakfast! It also helps that at during that time, the packed and crazed little restaurant is a bit more peaceful. It also ensures that I get a great parking space.....I'm sure there are some who have never been able to get within sniffing range of the front and center parking stall!
PHC, has one thing in my opinion that put them head and shoulders above the other Pho shops in the area.....the meat. In this photo "from the vault", of a visit last year, you can see what I mean.
On this visit, I ordered the Dac Biet (special), large bowl, which at that time was somewhere around five and a half bucks. My favorite by far was the brisket and tendon(duh!), both of which shone. The garnishes were of good quality, and the amount adequate.
The noodles had the perfect texture, just right right amount of pull, and not over-cooked as id the case at many other places. What was disappointing, was that the broth lacked a good beef flavor, which was strange because I've always thought that the broth at PHC was pretty good and beefy, if a bit lacking in other flavors. It was also much too salty. Hmmm...I decided to give PHC a rest. This visit was not without some "interesting" vignettes however. I saw one customer get up and start berating the Server. Doing my best "fly on the wall" impression, after a few seconds I understood that the customer was angry because he believed that when the Server moved the Pho from the tray to his table, the Server had stuck his thumbs into the soup! I also viewed the phenomenon from which PHC earned the nickname "Hoisin City" from a friend of mine. Folks dumping huge amounts of hoisin and sriracha into the Pho, without nary a taste to see if the broth needed it.
And so I just kinda gave PHC a rest. Until reading about several folks who just raved about the Bun Bo Hue at PHC. Bun Bo Hue happens to be one of my favorite soups, so I just had to check it out. And however misguided or somewhat esoteric it may be, over the last few years, I've kinda developed my own "shortlist" of what I look for, or more appropriately sniff, stare, and taste for, in Bun Bo Hue. So here's how the BBH at PHC (you gotta love the abbrev's) was for me.
First off, the price (small) $5.65:
The bowl arrived, and it looked downright delicious if a bit short on the "annatto red" that I'm used to. It also lacked any type of serious lemongrass-shrimp paste fragrance. I enjoyed the flavor of the Rau Ram(Vietnamese Coriander), but other than that, this broth really lacked the bright flavor of a good bowl of Bun Bo Hue. First off, the lemongrass and mild ginger flavor was sorely lacking. The broth was also seriously lacking in heat, and had only a very mild hint of the shrimp paste flavor I've become familiar with. The broth had a nice amount of oil, which was very noticeable because the bowl was delivered lukewarm. It is important that my BBH...or even Bun Rieu be delivered absolutely tongue scortching hot. Why? It's because of this:
While the herbs served with Pho are considered "garnishes", I've come to understand that the herbs and vegetables served with Bun Bo Hue and Bun Rieu are treated more like vegetables, and are an integral part of the dish. It is also important that the broth be served hot, so that the vegetables, in this case only shredded cabbage(?), will soften a bit.
The noodles were okay, if a bit too soft. If there was one redeeming feature of this Bun Bo Hue, it would be the meat, all of which was top notch. I did lament the lack of Cha Lua(steamed defatted pork sausage) in this bowl, but not for very long, as the excellent tendon (just as good as Pho Ca Dao on ECB) soon diverted my attention.
All things considered, this bowl lacked the soul of a bowl of Bun Bo Hue. And after eating it, I can understand how misguided individuals can call Bun Bo Hue, "spicy Pho"(please forgive me Wandering Chopsticks). That's basically what it tasted like.
I really didn't want to do a post at a place where I've enjoyed a good many bowls of Pho over the years, and end things this way. So recently, before things got too crazy, I went for another bowl of breakfast Pho. With the various combinations of meats available on the typical sizeable Pho menu, you'd think I'd be able to get my "dream combination" - brisket, flank, and tendon. But alas, it isn't available on the menu(though I'm sure that I'd be able to request it), so decided to order the #7, rare steak, flank, tendon, and tripe ($5.65).
What came my way was a steaming hot large bowl (and I was only charged for a regular). The garnishes were again of good quality, if a bit sparse. On this day the broth was as I remembered, mildly beefy and light. The meat was good as it always is, and the noodles perfect. It was a good bowl of Pho........
I've found the service at Pho HoaCali to be efficient. It may be because I usually eat there in the mornings, but I've never had the "menu dealt out, and the Server standing over you with the ordering pad" thing done here. The Guy who mans the register has alway been nice and friendly, and I'll gladly go back for some Pho...no Bun Bo Hue for me though.
Pho Hoacali Express
9170 Mira Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92126