A few days after my post on Island Style Hawaii BBQ & Local Food, I was contacted by "Lurker Larry"...really, that's what he wants to be called, who lives in PB and wanted my opinion on his favorite Vietnamese spot, PB Pho and Grill. I did let him know that if I dropped by, I'd be perfectly honest in my opinion and I didn't want to hurt his feelings....or lose a reader, lurker or not. I was assured that he just wanted to know what I thought....well, I was somewhat flattered. I asked him to tell me what his favorite dishes were and after receiving that email dropped by the following weekend.
Located near the corner of Cass and Garnet, I'd really not have noticed the place if I drove by. Strangely, I found easy parking nearby.....on all my visits....even on weekends. I'm guessing that folks are still sleeping in at 11am on weekends during the off-peak season?
The interior is large, colorful, in the typical kind of hipster, modern pho shop way. The menu has a decent selection of the usual suspects...everything from Banh Xeo to Bo Luc Lac, and of course pho.
Armed with a list of Larry's favorites, I went first with his number one fave....Bun Thit Nuong ($8.49). Man, this bowl looked huge.
There's no faulting the portion size; though the amount of pork, is somewhat deceptive. Still, it is decently flavored, with fish sauce, not too salty nor sweet. The cha gio, the egg roll, was somewhat burnt, really hard, and the filling was dry. The nuoc mam cham was watered down and much too sweet for my taste.
The bun was nicely done, good al dente pull to it....and believe me there was a of bun in this dish. The only thing that was more of was the iceberg lettuce and bean sprouts
You really couldn't fault the portion size. Though the nuoc mam cham was so watered down that I asked for....and was given, very nicely mind you, a second little ramekin of it....with no extra charge.
So, I guess if you thought of this as a salad.....well, maybe not.
Mission not over; I returned the following weekend. And still had an easy time finding parking.
This time, a different twosome working, service was kind of odd...the young man wasn't very pleasant, he just seemed to want to get back to texting on his phone, yet the young woman was so nice....sort of a strange "good cop, bad cop" kind of service?
I went with the other two items "LL" told me about. The first....and the reason he found our little blog in the first place, was because of chicken wings. He often orders the chicken wings here.......and so did I ($9.99). Funny, the menu says 10 wings....but I took a quick census.
Anyway, these are basically "naked wings" with sweet chili sauce. The skin is rubbery, not fried well enough....and it's a version of sweet chili sauce. Lots of black spots on the bones....somewhat dry.......
Per my direction, I ordered the Pho Dac Biet ($8.99)....."LL" does rare and well done steak. I just wanted to get the range of proteins.
This is what I call a classic example of "Ameri-pho". It's not bad....in fact to show how far "pho has fallen" in Kearny Mesa, this place is better than Pho T Cali. But that is setting the bar very, very, low. So.....the rare steak was pretty much well done by the time the bowl hit the table. It was dry, the other proteins weren't too bad....the well done steak and flank had a decent flavor. The broth was cloudy and highly defatted....as is typical for San Diego pho, it was on the sweeter side, but actually not overly sweet. No anise tones, but a light beefiness.
Looking at the photo to the right.......as is the norm in "Ameri-pho" fairly skimpy on the basil and sprouts.
There were two little "whisps" of tripe, no complaints about texture; though the tendon was MIA. It was the typical clump of noodles in the bottom of the bowl; but it was very hot, but not over-cooked.
Well, what can I say, while his wasn't the pho of my dreams, it was actually better than the last bowl of pho I had in PB.
And so that's the way it goes, right? Well, not so fast Kemosabe....... Just for the heck of it, I decided to return for an encore. So, I returned....this time the service was so nice and friendly.....because I had seen Banh Mi Bo Kho ($8.99) on the menu. So why not?
What I will say is; this was one huuuuge bowl of beef stew flavored soup. To say this is a stew is really pushing some definitions. Also, there was a layer of fat at least a third of an inch thick on top of the broth. The flavor had a strange greasy-sweet-pho-saltiness that lacked the tangy-black pepper-anise tones I enjoy. And that layer of greasiness did no favors to the broth. This was obviously pho broth with a beef stew base added to it.
On the bright side, there was a ton of beef; fairly tender, squared off pieces.
I could have used with more cilantro and onions to cut through the pure greasiness.....but perhaps nothing would have helped. The carrots were not cooked all he way thru, but the banh mi was crusty, yeasty, and nicely toasted.
Not the best....but in all honesty, I've had worse. Sorry "LL" if I've disappointed you. My wish for you is for you to take some time and visit other areas of San Diego for Pho and Vietnamese cuisine. There's much to like about PB, but as of now, Vietnamese food in not in that category.
PB Pho & Grill
1007 Garnet Ave
San Diego, CA 92109
Though I did learn where I can find parking, at least for now, in this part of PB!
Thanks for reading and giving me an opportunity to try somewhere new LL!