On one of my "morning drives" a couple of weeks ago, I drove into the strip mall that houses Seafood City and noticed a new Vietnamese restaurant had opened next to Siam Nara. Even though the weather had been pretty warm at the time, I thought that a nice bowl of Pho would be just the thing. It was not quite 10am, so the mercury had not yet quite reached an uncomfortable level for consuming Pho.
A very friendly young man seated me by the front window and I looked over the menu which was filled with all the usual suspects (Pho of course, various egg and spring rolls, Bun, Banh Mi, etc...). The interior of the restaurant was very nicely done....not gaudy, but clean, spacious, and comfortable.
So of course I ordered some Pho.... and as is my usual M.O. I went with the Dac Biet (the special), which is a good way to find out what, if any of the meat items a particular Pho shop does well. Feeling hungry, I went with the large ($6.95)....maybe I haven't been paying much attention....but when di Pho pass the $7 mark?
The garnishes, save for a thin, withered, leaf of Ngo Gai was impeccable, the bean sprouts were so white they almost reflected the sunlight. The broth was slightly cloudy and on the mild side for my tastes. Very faint anise and beef, low on salt, as if afraid to offend the eater. It wasn't bad, but by no means good. Protein was on the sparse side, though the flank had a nice flavor. Again, as if a "Pho focus group" had gotten together and determined that tendon and tripe were persona-non-grata, I found one thin strand of tripe, finely prepared and two small strips of beef tendon.
What amazed me was the huge clump of noodles in this bowl.
I don't recall having this much Banh Pho in any bowl in recent memory. Sadly, the noodles were severely over-cooked and mushy; not very pleasant to eat.
If I discounted the noodles, this would have been a decent bowl, but nothing to make me stop going to my other favorite Pho shops in Mira Mesa.
It's become a habit of mine when visiting restaurant for the first time to walk to the restrooms, especially if they are located in the rear of the restaurant as is Pho Ban Mai's. This is not because of any pernicious bladder problem, nor is it because, like some folks I know, do I usually feel the need to check out the state of a restaurant's lavatory. Rather, it allows me a chane to check out what other folks are eating.....and sometimes, as in the case of Pho Ban Mai, it pays off. There were several dishes that looked promising. So the Missus and I returned a couple of days later.
On my previous visit, I noticed how crisp and light the Banh Xeo ($7.50) looked and it did not disappoint.
Thinner than most, the crepe was very crisp and not as greasy as many we've tried. Although it didn't have a whole lot of filling, the thin slices of pork were very tender. The flavor wavered was a bit heavy handed with regards to "coconutiness" but that was balanced with the nuoc mam cham which was (surprisingly) not watered down and stood up well. The lettuce and other garnishes were bright and fresh.
I'd also noticed that the Fried Rice, not something I'd usually order in a Vietnamese restaurant looked quite good. So we decided to order the Fish and Squid ($7.95) version.
Even though the portion was on the small size, this photo does not do it justice, as there were at least six or more shrimp (albeit a bit over-cooked) and a good amount of squid hidden in the rice. The rice also had a bit of a mildly smokey "wok-hay" thing going on which made it a pleasure to eat. Even though both items were on the small side with regards to portion size, they were both well prepared.
I thought the service at Pho Ban Mai was quite good; the Servers were friendly and attentive. This ain't your dad's menu slapped on the table and server hovering over you to take your order kind of place. It's not quite a destination for us, though if we lived in the area we'd drop by now and then.
When I mentioned the name of the place to my good friend "Yummy Yummy", she told me "what a neat name". When I inquired I was told that Ban Mai means something along the lines of "natural morning breeze" (sorry if I didn't get it right YY)........
Pho Ban Mai
8991 Mira Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92126
Open Daily 8am - 10pm
Please check out Kirbie's post on PBM here.