Just a couple of weeks after my visit to Pho Cali in Clairemont for my Kearny Mesa pho round-up, FOY (friend of yoso) MrZ told me that the place was under new management. I wasn't quite sure what they meant by "new management"....was it the same name, just new folks, or what. So imagine my surprise when I drove on over and saw a very familiar name.
Of course that location became Thuan Kieu, then turned back to Nhu Y again. Of course, the first thing I thought about was the Bun Mam. We're sorely in need of something other than Pho in the area.....heck even the Pho isn't very good around these parts. A friend of mine, when mentioning another Pho shop linked a comment from that four lettered site. Basically that poster said something along the lines of, "I know good Pho, I worked in the mecca of pho in San Diego...." wait for it, wait for it.... "Kearny Mesa....." yikes, really? Wrong Mesa......
Anyway, if you just took a peak into the restaurant, you'd never have realized that an ownership change had taken place.
Much like the other Nhu Y, there are specials listed at the front of the menu. Unfortunately, the dish I wanted wasn't on the menu. The young man working here was very friendly, perhaps a bit too much for me, but I'm sure other folks appreciate him.
So I decided to settle for the Bun Cha Hanoi which was priced rather nicely for San Diego at $7.95. I was really interested to see how this would turn out.
As a whole, this barely passable. Actually, the best part of the dish was the mildly spicy pickles. The pork meatballs were bland and the marinated pork slices, though better in flavor was on the tough and dry side. Everything else was fine, the greens and herbs fresh, etc, etc......
Still, I wouldn't have been motivated to return if hadn't seen the greaseboard specials......where Bun Mam was prominently displayed.
So I returned a couple of days later and ordered the Bun Mam......and time seemed to stand still. The young man looked at me and really didn't seem to know what to do with me. So he walked over to the older gentleman eating at a nearby table....returned and told me, "sorry, no Bun Mam until after 3 pm." Say what? "Oh, okay, why not?" Reply: "because the smell disturbs our lunch customers...." Really? Bummer......
Let's call that strike one.
Strike two was when the young man told me, "I didn't know Korean's like Bun Mam!"
Strike three was Com Tam Dac Biet, the House Special Broken Rice ($9.95).
You can tell by the photos how this was, right? A symphony of dry; the com tam (broken rice), bi (shredded pork), and the pork chop. Greasy; the Tau Hu Ky (bean curd wrapped shrimp paste) and the shrimp. Bland; the cha (steamed egg and pork). Perhaps I should have complained and sent this back.....so in the end it was my fault...for:
1 - Ordering the Bun Mam before 3pm
2 - Looking (at least to the server) Korean
3 - Ordering the #1 item on the specials menu.
Still, I left on a mission. I was now determined to get that Bun Mam, or die trying....... I explained my mission to the Missus, who thought I'd gone nuts. But I'd be damned if I didn't get me a bowl of that Bun Mam. So I returned about a week later.......after 3pm....... The friendly young man remembered me. and so I finally did get my Bun Mam ($10):
The Bun Mam at Nhy Y/Thuan Kieu on El Cajon Boulevard had changed over the years. It had gotten much more sweet and spicy. This was the version I had back in 2006. Pungent and savory with a touch of spice....it was very hearty. The Bun and the vegetables/herbs added a nice texture and took a bit of the edge off the fermented fish flavor.
There was a generous helping of eggplant and more important pork belly.
Overall, a nice and hearty meal. I explained to the server that I really enjoyed the complex flavors, the combination of salty-sweet-spicy-pungent...umami in this dish. I'm even willing to suffer through the catfish that is served in it. I order stuff that I'm curious about, or enjoy, and I do like the Bun Mam at Nhu Y and recommend that folks give it a shot. Dont take my word for it Ed from Yuma enjoys it too. Apparently other folks do as well. A couple seated behind me ordered a two-fer...Bun Mam and Durian Shakes!
I'd found out from my good buddy "YY" that the older gentleman is actually Nhu Y. So when I went to pay at the register I asked him how his other restaurant was doing. He told me he had sold that restaurant ans was now here.
I guess one day I'll have ot try the pho here. I'll probably do it if I decided to have a meal here before 3pm.
Pho Nhu Y Vietnamese Grill
5375 Kearny Villa Rd
San Diego, CA 92123
Daily 9am - 9pm