I recently had a very friendly, but lively debate with a cousin of John and Peter. The subject was our choices for favorite Pho in San Diego. I was quite shocked when he told me it was Mignon Pho! I'd visited when they first opened, then followed up with a couple more visits, but was never impressed with the Pho. Loved the choices of local craft brews, the high ceilings, nice friendly service......but the food, well...no. Now, I realize that some folks believe I'm inordinately picky. I also realize the difference between what we consider our favorites versus the best. So feeling my way through this conversation, I went with, "oh, ok, Mignon is your favorite pho restaurant, who do you think is makes the best?" Looking at me like I had bolts on the side of my neck, the young man said, "Mignon, of course.....best broth, best noodles, best meat, just the best...." So much for the soft, diplomatic approach. Ok, fair enough, FOYs Howie and Jenne had also mentioned that Mignon Pho had improved a bit, so I figured it was time I returned.
Located in the same strip mall as Nijiya Market, Koon Thai, and Okan, I like the look of the restaurant.
The tables are nice and clean, the place looks neat and uncluttered, and there's not someone practically mugging you to order as soon as you've sat down. I do say that the place can get pretty loud fairly quickly, but I don't think that's a much of a hindrance.
The young man who took my order was very friendly and mellow and I simply went with the Regular Size Filte Mignon Pho with the meat on the side. At $7.50 for the whole shebang, I was surprised. My last visit was an $7.95 bowl of Pho with an additional charge of $1.75 for meat on the side. Nice change in this day and age.
The garnishes arrived, perhaps not a sparkling fresh as on previous visits, but looked perfectly fine.
And a minute or two later, my bowl of pho arrived.
The broth looked on the dark side and was sending plumes of steam in the air. Taking a whiff, I was disappointed, no beefiness, no anise, maybe some onion, but very weak in the fragrance department. Taking a taste would yield the same result, weak......though I got this taste, I'm thinking they may now use msg or something similar in the broth? The lack of richness didn't help matters either.
As I made my way through just about everything and anything on the plate of herbs and bean sprouts, I noticed the lack of Ngo Gai (culantro) this time around. But in it's place was a sprig of Ngo Om, the Rice Paddy Herb. I've had this many times, though never with pho. It has a citrusy taste with an earthy almost cumin like background flavor that tastes kinda odd in pho.
The meat was nice, though a bit too frozen as it took a while for it get to the lightly pink color I enjoy.
But man, that broth was weak. I couldn't bring myself to finish a third of it.
For the first time I was sorely tempted to grab for one of the bottles on the table.
Now I know why each table has a large bottle of each on them.
And yet, I thought, man the service was nice and the pace very relaxed. There's got to be something on the menu I like. Then I recalled seeing this on the menu:
Man, Banh Mi Bo Kho, one of my favorite things!
So I returned for the Beef Stew.......well not quite a stew as I soon found out.
Man this was thin and insipid, truly lacking in flavor and the most watery beef "stew" I've ever had. It's almost like the pho base with some tomato and a very light touch of seasoning was added. This was really bad. It's almost like they don't know the difference between soup and stew.
I felt bad for the folks who made this.....
What a bummer. But I did try to hedge my bets a little by choosing something a bit different, a bit fusiony, from the appetizers.
Yes, you can sigh....I actually ordered french fries. Lemongrass Garlic Fries ($4) to be exact. And they arrvied nice and hot, though I can't quite make the connection with fresh, since these were obviously mass produced frozen spuds, it's not like they cut them fresh inhouse.
Well the menu actually had the crispy on the outside and soft on the inside part right. These were also nicely seasoned with salt and what I'm thinking is granulated garlic. The lemongrass flavor was quite faint.
Well, I went to a Pho restaurant and enjoyed the fries, I think that says much more than another four or five paragraphs would. I do enjoy the service, cleanliness, and atmosphere at Mignon Pho. The craft beer, though not particularly focused seems like a nice addition. But the bottom line is, I'm here to eat.........
Mignon Pho + Grill
3860 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
Postscript: The interesting thing was someone else recommended the wings here, so I actually went back again for those and even tried the pho again. The pho was just as bad....as for the wings, you'll have to stay tuned.