I've been kinda hesitating "pulling the trigger" on this post. Based on comments and emails I've gotten, it seems that opinions of Song Huong are somewhat polarized....... But after a recent third visit to Song Huong I decided it was time for a post..... and I still waited and visted one more time....just to make sure..... When my good FOY (friend of yoso) "Yummy Yummy" told me that there was going to be a second Song Huong opening in Vinh Hung Market, I had mixed feelings. We've had a couple of decent meals at Song Huong on El Cajon Boulevard, but it just seems that the same dish was never the same twice.... perhaps some would find the somewhat whimsical preparations an interesting surprise. For us it was just plain maddening.
And then they opened..... and folks started emailing and commenting. On one side, "Yummy Yummy" and "Janfrederick" were thumbs down. On the other hand "Joe" (you can read his comments on this post) enjoyed it. "Melanie" (thanks for the emails!) was more on the positive side. By the time I finally visited I already had some recommendations......and some dishes to avoid as well!
If this doorway looks familiar, this is where Chibugan used to be (more on Chibugan at the end of the post).
Looking at my photos of Chibugan; it seems that the folks removed a good amount of the interior clutter and opened the place up a bit...... I never realized how high the ceilings here were!
Like the ECB location; this place seels all manner of shakes and drinks, one thing which the Missus always enjoys at the ECB shop.
I pretty much knew what I wanted to order...... Melanie and Joe recommended the Banh Cuon. So I went with the Banh Cuon Dac Biet ($6.50):
As things go; this was decent by San Diego standards. The rolls used Banh Cuon Uot, and the pork was fairly bland and dry. The Nem Chua was pretty good, I like mine a bit more sour, and there was only one slice of it.
The Banh Cuon were a bit drier than I enjoy as well. The Nuoc Mam Cham also tasted watered down. The Cha Lua - lean defatted pork sausage were decent. Overall, I thought this was better than the version at Tan Ky Mi Gia, but not even close to say, Banh Cuon Tay Ho. Of course nothing beats having it made fresh in the morning. To be honest, I returned at a later date and had this again, this time it was much better(though they gotta bump up that Nuoc Mam Cham)....... so I guess YMMV??
I sitll wasn't quite sure about this place, so I returned and got the very thing I was told NOT TO get..... the Pho. "Joe" did mentioned that the place had changed Pho cooks, so perhaps my bowl of Pho Tai, Chin, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sach..... heck just call it #6 ($5.75) would be ok.
I swear, this could be the twin of the bowl I had at Vietnamese Cuisine on Miramar Road. It was cloudy and lacked any distinctive character.... it was far from terrible, but maybe a "C-". The garnishes were fairly scarce. The noodles however, were prepared perfectly.
Where this bowl fell really short was in the protein department.....
For some reason all the cuts of meat were very dry, none more than the flank which was tough as well. The worse was the tripe which had that unpleasant soapiness to it.
Still, I returned...... And when I ordered my Banh Cuon the second time, I was starving so I decided to try the Thit Nuong Cuon (grilled pork spring rolls - $3.75):
Aside from being a bit too wet, and the bun being on the mushy side this was ok. I also thought these were on the skimpy side, and would have appreciated more herbs to cut the saltiness (in a good way) of the thin slices of the pork.
Being on the wetter side, these started falling apart pretty quickly.
I guess I'm a glutton for punishment because I returned to Song Huong one more time...... this time for the Bun Bo Hue ($5.50):
All thoughts that this was going to be a "bland bowl" went away as the bowl arrived, and the funky fragrance of Mam Tom, fermented shrimp paste hit me before the bowl arrived. For me, the over-riding smell sends mixed signals, as what passes for Bun Bo Hue in most Pho shops is a basic clear broth with Mam Tom and chilies, something which totally misses the mark. And unfortunately this was, well, that. I liken it to having a trio play something designed for a quintet...... all the music is there, but certain parts aren't played. The plate of finely shredded cabbage and bean sprouts, though on the small side did fine. I could have used a bit more mint to add a herbaceous flavor to the bowl. The lime came to good use.... it helped me cut through the strong shrimp paste flavor.
There was a tiny speck of meat on the pork hock, and the thick slices of beef were tough and dry.... and to think folks complain about the meat at Mien Trung, which along with Hoai Hue is in a total different league.
On the good side; the broth was scorching hot; as must for this type of soup, and the noodles were cooked properly.
In the end, the food here is not terrible; but when it comes to everything other than the Banh Cuon, in my opinion there are other much better options in the area. I do really like the young lady who I believe runs the place.... she is quiet, but very nice.....they've never charged me for tea, and "round down " my check. As to whether I'll return? Maybe after a fairly long break....
So what happened to Chibugan? Well, they moved over to a smaller space one door over:
One thing I've always liked about Chibugan is that they serve vertically challenged folks like me! Hah, just kidding.... but that's the first thing that went through my mind when I read "We make short orders!!!" Got a crispy pata for shorty over here?