For some reason, we're taking a bit longer getting back to our usual routine after our last trip to Japan. Call it what you may...we might be getting a bit older....work has been much busier for the both of us....or whatever. Still, we're starting to settle in, which means visiting those familiar places. I'm not sure you got this out of my last set of revisit posts, but one thing I do miss when visiting Japan is food with a nice amount of spice. So naturally, I do a bit of catching up when we get back. Here are two recent revisits.
It's been a while since we've been here. For some reason, winter just doesn't seem to be the right time for spicy Issan inspired Thai food. But this past weekend, with temps inching into the 80's...well, it was time.
Things have changed a bit since our last visit. The menu has been expanded and a lot of our Sab E Lee favorites are now on the current Thai Papaya menu.
We started with the Bamboo Shoot Salad; we're getting a bit wimpy in our old age and now went with a heat level 7, which was enough for us.
And some sticky rice. Nice earthy springtime tones from the bamboo shoots...almost meaty in texture. Good spice, a nice start to the meal.
We also got the Missus's favorite; the Papaya Salad with salted egg.....
In spite of being a bit short with the green beans; this was excellent. The salted egg adds a nice interesting pungent-savory layer of flavor to the salad. Loved the refreshing crunch of the shredded papaya, with hints of sweet-acidic tomatoes. On this day, that sauce was right on......I ended up dipping my sticky rice in it to get every drop. And for some reason, the pungent-sour flavors make the cabbage taste even sweeter.
As is the case with the Issan Sausage.
And while there might be better versions of Thai/Lao style sausage in San Diego these days....this is still a staple during our meals at Thai Papaya. It has that balance of sour-herbaciousness, that combines so well with the ginger and/or peanuts with a little ball of sticky rice; letting a bite of cucumber cleanse your palate between bites.
This was just the perfect meal on a nice spring day.
Thai Papaya by Sab E Lee 2405 Ulric St San Diego, CA 92111
We chose Mien Trung of all places on Easter morning for breakfast. And so did a bunch of other folks as the place was packed. The Missus had the Bun Rieu and I went with my usual Bun Bo Hue. We ate sitting elbow to elbow with other folks in communal style.
Man, this was a lot spicier than I recalled. Still; with all the veggies and herbs, slippery noodles, and deeply flavored broth......I worked up a nice sweat and got that capsaicin high....my head feeling nice and clear.
For more on this place; just enter Mien Trung in the search box......I think we've got over a dozen posts on the place.
Mien Trung Restaurant 7530 Mesa College Dr San Diego, CA 92111
All this rainy weather meant.....well lots of noodle soup. Here's a short round-up of revisits.
Green China Grill:
Heavy drops were coming down and I was dodging pot holes on Convoy. I just decided to give up and turned into ever evolving Plaza del Sol (BTW Tasty Pot is now open). It had been over a year since my last visit to Green China Grill, so I decided to drop in. Looking at the dining area; this place should be called blinding green China grill. I was the first to arrive but withi minutes, the dining area started filling up. That woman sitting with a group seems really familiar too.
They now have a rather large menu with grilled items; various noodles, liang cai (cold dishes), and even yang rou pao mo? Go figure.... I went with the Beef Noodle Soup with Sour Cabbage ($9.99).
Man, that broth was blasting hot, which was good thing on a cold and rainy day. It was also deceivingly spicy and was quiet numbing (ma) as well. The amount of MSG has been toned down a bit since my previous visits; though I think it could still use a bit more beefiness. The preserved vegetable was your basic standard issue xue cai; like what you get at T&L. The noodles were nice a slippery; but is still missing that little bit of pull I enjoy in good "Lamian" (牛大碗). It has gotten better though.
The soup warmed me up and the spice had gotten the endorphin thing going and a nice sheen on my forehead. From that point of view, the noodle soup did its job. I need return more often.
Green China Grill 4688 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111 Open Wed - Mon 1130am - 3pm, 5pm - 9pm
Last week it was raining cats and dogs....and I almost stepped into poodle! Ok, not funny....though that one is so bad the guys at work cracked up. I really didn't want to head out too far, so I decided to check into Pho Kitchen to see how they were doing.
The kids who work here are really nice. Looking over the menu I noticed they had Bun Bo Hue....hmmm....what the heck; it was pouring outside. I went with the "regular" ($8) bowl of Bun Bo Hue.
Pho shop BBH is a crapshoot and I let out a sigh when the typical pho sprouts and basil arrived.....
And just as quickly, they were removed from the table and replaced with this....ooh psych!
Purple cabbage? Not quite legit, but better than what it replaced.
So what to say? There was lots of shredded lemongrass, though not too much of that flavor in the broth. You could make out the slight, funky taste of mam nem, which added a bit of savories to things. The spice was pretty basic, all front of mouth heat. At least it was steaming hot. The noodles were done adequately, though for once there didn't seem to be enough of it in this bowl. The meat was quite good. The thick cut beef shank had excellent flavor and there was a good amount of it, the tendon was decent as well. Nice thing about the pork hock; they'd removed the bones for easy eating. Though sometimes sucking on that bone is one of the best things about a bowl of BBH.
While not terrible, in terms of spicy, sour, salty, savory, and sweet flavors this was kind of lacking. I'll stick with the Pho next time.
Pho Kitchen 5375 Napa St San Diego, CA 92110 Open Daily 11am - 9pm
If there was one thing I missed during our last trip abroad, it would be noodle soup. That's the first thing I wanted when we got back. After a pretty warm start to November, we finally got some cooler weather, then even some rain.
So, having to work that weekend morning; I dropped by Mien Trung on the way to the office.
The place was empty and would stay that way for my entire visit. Except for three sets of customers coming in, to get pots of Bun Bo Hue for catering. I hadn't seen the young man at the counter in ages; it was nice seeing a familiar smiling face.
Then he told me that "Mom and Dad are on vacation"....uh-oh. In the past this was a bad sign. I be certain that the quality and the flavors of the food would be sub-standard.
I'm happy to say that this was not true.
The broth wasn't overloaded with MSG and the distinct lemongrass flavor came through. The spicy buzz of chilies on my tongue lasted through the entire meal. The broth was scalding hot, a must when it comes to these type of soups since, if you're like me, that entire pile of greens and sprouts will end up in the bowl. The noodles were firm and slippery, and the meat, which is usually rustically cut thick and rather tough seemed a bit more tender. Granted, it's not the same bowl I first had over a decade ago, but I think it's still the BBH in San Diego.
I left the place, having built up a nice sweat......not having spicy food in a while had kinda lowered my tolerance. But that nice little chili pepper buzz kept on going.
So perhaps I'm not worried about the day that "Mom" retires any more.
Mien Trung Restaurant 7530 Mesa College Dr San Diego, CA 92111
Pho Hiep and Grill - Linda Vista:
Along with all of these weather changes comes some side effects. In my case, my biennial raging sinus infection. After stopping off at the nearby drugstore to get meds I decided some hot soup might help clear things up a bit. And Pho Hiep and Grill was right around the corner. It had been almost a year since I last visited.
Anyway, I went with #4 - small sized.
The broth was a lot more clear than what I'd had on my previous visit. It also wasn't overloaded with MSG this time. It was however, pretty darn bland, lacking in beefy flavors, anise, or a even a slight sweetness. Perhaps my olfactory system was on the fritz, but I'm usually pretty good with regards to tastes even when I have a sinus infection. I added a bit of lime and I could clearly taste that.
The herbs and sprouts were turning brown, something I often see during the winter, but the portion size, something that has been quickly shrinking at most places was decent.
The brisket and tendon were quite good, though the fatty flank was very rubbery and there were but a few shreds of tripe.
The noodles fine and decently stretchy.
Kind of a mixed bag, but definitely not as good as I've had here before.
Pho Hiep & Grill 6947 Linda Vista Road San Diego, CA 92111
What really piqued my interest was when my good friend "YummyYummy" told me that this place had some relationship to Pho Ban Mai. I also noticed that the place opens at 9am, which was great. As I mentioned earlier, my schedule is now chocked full of meetings, often between 11 am and 1 pm. So having another early lunch option was great. One morning, having had meetings from 7am all the way to 930, I was starving. I usually get to work between 6 and 630 and hadn't eaten anything that morning. I had meeting scheduled out to the early afternoon, so I escaped for a quick meal at Duyen Mai.
They've done a nice job with the place....actually done a bit of renovation. The menu really did look like Ban Mai.
I was ravenous, but really didn't want any noodle soup....I had on a light colored shirt and really didn't want to embarrass myself with blots of soup stains on my shirt. I just don't wear them with as much style as Ed from Yuma does after a meal at Mien Trung!
I decided to try the Chicken Wings in Fish Sauce ($9).
These were nicely glazed, though not as crisp as I prefer. The sauce was adequate, slightly sweet, savory, with the distinct flavor of ginger. The actual meat was on the dry side. Adequate, but nothing special.
If there was one dish which almost never let me down at Pho Ban Mai, it was the Banh Xeo ($8.50).
This was pretty much like what I had on my last visit to Pho Ban Mai early last year. The batter was light, though without as much coconut flavor as I recall, and not too oily at all. It was pretty light in the filling department; especially with regards to pork. Still, it's all about proportion with this, so this was not bad. The nuoc mam cham tasted a little watered down; but the herbs and lettuce were sparkling fresh. I could only finish half and took the rest back to the office; where "R" just devoured it. Apparently, she's a fan of Banh Xeo.
The folks here are very nice and friendly. I had short chat with the woman who I believe is the owner. She informed me that the had sold Pho Ban Mai a while back and after a break decided to open another restaurant.
I returned that weekend. I was surprised to see the place doing decent business on a weekend morning. While the customers seemed split 50-50 on my previous week. This time all were Vietnamese.
I recalled that "JanFrederick" had mentioned the Bun Bo Hue in the comments on my original post on Pho Ban Mai. I'd really never had the chance to try it. So, I decided to finally order it ($8).
In terms of Pho Shop BBH, this was ok. Basically, doctored up pho broth. It had some sneaky spice and the noodles were firm and slippery, but it really lacked the deep lemongrass-funky flavor of a great bowl of BBH. Not a fan of the beef which crumbled into little pieces when I tried to pick it up with chopsticks.
The herbs and greens were on the sparse side, but very fresh. I might try this again one day, but not for a while.
Returning to work and more lunch time meetings, I returned to Duyen Mai. This time I wore appropriately dark clothes. It was also about time I try the Nem Nuong Cuon.
Yep, these were the same "Brodard light" rolls as I'd had at Ban Mai. On the good side, not too tightly wrapped, fresh, herbs, and scallion. On the other hand; I find the dipping sauce to be rather bland and am not fond of the texture of it and on this visit, the fried egg roll wrapper was on the burnt side and gave off a bitter flavor.
I also ordered the Pho Filet ($10)....but due to mental vapor lock, forgot to ask them to put the meat on the side.
So of course the beef was overdone by the time it got to my table. In spite of that; the beef was very tender and had no off flavors. The clump of noodles at the bottom of the bowl was decent, not overcooked. The broth was interesting; perhaps a bit too defatted and quite dark. The flavor was onion forward, almost no beefiness, light anise, but at least it didn't have too much MSG. In spite of the rather over-powering sweetness of the broth, I think I prefer Char House.
Like all previous meals; while light on the quantity, the sprouts and basil were very fresh. I probably should drop by and try their house pho one of these days.
One tip....right now, all the spring rolls are a buck a piece. I don't see it mentioned anywhere. Even though the typical order is 3; they'll ask you how many you want and just charge you $1 each!
Finally, this past weekend, one last weekend visit. Again, all the customers seemed to be VN.
I ordered the Goi Cuon Bi - the spring rolls with shredded pork and pork skin.
This was pretty good; it was wrapped a bit too tight, but the "bi" wasn't too dry and actually had rice powder on it. Loved the herbs; the mint really brought the flavor of this up. The nuoc mam cham on this visit was quite good and not watered down.
Not feeling like soup or anything heavy; I ordered the Goi Ngo Sen ($10.99); the Shrimp and Pork Lotus Stem Salad.
I haven't had this in ages. Apparently this version has jellyfish in it....I saw but a few thin strands. This was mostly julienned carrots and cucumbers, with a generous dose of bean sprouts. There were quite a bit of shrimp; which had been sliced in half lengthwise. Not much pork and a few lotus stem, which were buried away at the bottom of the salad. It was dressed a bit too light for me, so I dumped the remaining sauce from the Goi Cuon Bi on it which helped. At least I ate healthy, right? And those spring rolls were still just a buck a piece.....
I really like the folks here; they smile and are pretty friendly. If I bring folks here; I'd probably stick with the spring rolls and the banh xeo....I'm sure folks would enjoy them. The menu is rather vast; I recall enjoying a couple of other dishes at Ban Mai, so I'll probably try them here in the future. Hmmmm.....I need to return to Ban Mai as well......
You might as well check them out while they're still a dollar a piece. I have a feeling that when that Grand Opening sign comes down; the prices will go up!
Pho Duyen Mai 5375 Kearny Villa Rd San Diego, CA 92123 Open Daily 9am - 9pm
A few more revisits as I completed my weekend morning "honey do" lists.
Hoai Hue Vietnamese Restaurant:
It was just after 9am when I decided to see what was up with Hoai Hue. I think it's been about a year and a half since I last visited. And like my last visit, the place was doing bang-up business at 915 on a weekend morning.
I ordered my usual, the Bun Tam Hoai Hue, basically Bun Bo Hue but with the crab cakes that are usually in Bun Rieu added. As usual, the broth, while steaming hot was on the sweeter side, with the presence of lemongrass or real pungency missing. In this morning the pungency was easily remedied with that huge squirt bottle of Mam Ruoc, fermented shrimp paste.
Don't get me wrong; the BBH is not terrible, it's just a little lighter in flavor and spice than what I really like in a bowl of Bun Bo Hue. I did enjoy the thick slices of Cha Lua. The pork hock was also quite large and fun to gnaw on. The tendon was much too hard to enjoy on this visit. Those slippery, spaghetti like noodles were done well and the sprouts, greens, and herbs were sparkling fresh.
It was a very filling, generous portion.
Hoai Hue Vietnamese Restaurant 4660 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92115
Man, has it already been almost 9 years since PK opened? I hadn't visited in over a year, so I thought I'd head back. This little strip mall has gotten kind of odd over the last couple of years. On one of my visits back in 2014, some guy kept asking me for money as I entered and left. I even saw him looking into my car windows while I was eating. I notice that there are now a couple of homeless folks living in the corner of the strip mall.
PK is slowly starting to look its age and the menus are showing some wear and tear.
But my favorite dish at Pho King, the Hu Tieu Mi Kho is still a solid choice. From the Chinese Celery, which adds that intense celery flavor and a nice crunch, to the pork studded mildly sweet soy-sauce mixture, to the broth on the side, it's a nice combination of flavors and textures for me.
For some reason, I also like the combination of having the stretchy Hu Tieu to go along with the more crunchy egg noodles, but that's just me.
Pho King Restaurant 4658 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92115
I'd like to finish up the post by thanking "Hien" for the very nice email. He mentioned that he was born and raised in City Heights, but moved away for college and now work. He says that he enjoys reading our little blog because we often post about places he went to when he lived here and have a special spot in his memory. Hien, I'm glad you enjoy our posts and that they bring back nice memories. Thanks for reading!
It's taken awhile, but the Missus is slowly getting back to Her routine as well. This morning, in the midst of the downpour, while shopping at Whole Paycheck, the Missus said, "let's go to Mien Trung...it's been a while and I'm craving some Bun Rieu." Now this was interesting. As I noted before, the Missus hasn't gotten the Bun Rieu at Mien Trung in a while; rather sticking with the Hen Xuc Com (spicy baby clams over rice), since they changed up the noodles and weakened the broth for the Bun Rieu.
So this was going to be interesting.....
The verdict? Well, this was a mere shadow of the Bun Rieu the we recalled. It was not bad, just not as good. The real problem for us, besides the use of the "wrong noodle" (per the Missus) was the lack of crab and tomato flavor in the broth. The Missus ave me a taste and I had to concur, it was quite bland, something that bun rieu should definitely not be.
As for my Bun Bo Hue; it was better than I'd had here in a while. The broth was very hot, the noodles firm and slippery, with a strong lemongrass flavor, and the effect of MSG a bit muted.
Time sure does fly, doesn't it? It's easy to forget about places you mean to revisit when they are tucked away from the main drag; such is the case with Song Huong almost hidden behind Vinh Hung Market. In fact, I'd totally forgotten about the place until someone mentioned that Chibugan, which had once occupied the Song Huong space; then moved next door had closed. It had me wondering about how Song Huong was doing. Then, as chance would have it, I heard someone recommending the Bun Bo Hue at Song Huong; I did recall it being decent, but nothing special. Still, you didn't have to remind me a third time.....
I had decided to go into the office on a recent weekend to catch up on things, so I decided to take a little detour to Song Huong.
Not sure if it was the strange set-up of the tables, which stretched from the booths...sticking out with four to six seats added. Or the sticky floors and tables. Or perhaps the overall mustiness of the place. It did seem that time has not been to good to Song Huong.
The women working here are very nice; though communication was a bit difficult at times. I did manage to order the Bun Bo Hue, now $7.
This was kind of an odd bowl of BBH. First off, no pork hock. The flank was super tough and the small slices if what looked like pounded beef tasted a bit off and was very tough. No cha lua, just some fish cake. The broth seemed to be dressed up pho broth, with mild hints of spice, but almost no lemongrass or even that quick fixer upper mam tom flavor. It was scalding hot though.
I'm not sure what to say about the noodles, which were different from the bun I'm used to having in BBH. This was hard and very, very slippery....more like undercooked wheat based noodles. The greens and herbs were plentiful, but starting to discolor and mostly comprised of lettuce.
I really don't know what to say about this bowl of soup. Maybe it was an off day? I gotta say, this was a rather strange bowl of Bun Bo Hue. It just seemed thrown together. It's been five years since I'd last visited....I don't think I'll be back anytime soon.
Talk about the post that never wanted to be....I was working on this post last week when my PC, which was all of over a decade old decided to finally kick the bucket. When things were up and running again, the weather got so hot and muggy that I felt guilty about even doing a post on Mien Trung.
Mien Trung has been a favorite of ours over the years, though the Missus doesn't get the Bun Rieu anymore because they stopped using the correct thinner noodles and I've been noticing some inconsistency, as "Mom", the older woman who owns the place gets older. So a couple of weeks back, when the heat turned for a bit the Missus and I decided to visit Mien Trung. Strangely, we didn't recognize any of the folks working....we've been coming here for years mind you.
The service was odd, we got the wrong order, and my bowl of Bun Bo Hue was waiting....sitting on our table because they forgot to bring the greens. And my Bun Bo Hue looked wrong and even smelled a bit different as well.
It was missing the cilantro and onions. The noodles were soft and mushy. The broth was very spicy and was really salty, and where was the red hue from the annatto oil? This was bad. The first thing I did was text my good friend "YummyYummy" asking if Mien trung had been sold or if "Mom" had retired. No one knew......
At least the Missus's Hen Xuc Com - spicy baby clams over rice was spot on. Very peppery a bit spicy, with nice savory tones.
I decided to return, but the weather once again got too hot. I did receive a text from "YY" telling me they had dropped by MT and "mom" was there. Still, I decided that I needed to drop by and check things out for myself.
And yes indeed "Mom" was in the house.
And while this was much better; it was still not quite the same. While the nice bracing flavor of lemongrass was back, and things were now the status quo, there was something missing....the flavors just seemed dulled, the dish lacked the vibrancy that made MT a stop on our rotation. It's easy to see the difference in this vintage shot of the Bun Bo Hue.
Sadly, Mom might be winding things down and passing the torch. Time does pass....it used to be that when Mom wasn't around MT would close. I do hope that the next time I visit I'll see that bright bowl of BBH and have those wonderful fragrances wafting through the air....but if it is not to be, Mien Trung had a great run.
Mien Trung Restaurant 7530 Mesa College Dr San Diego, CA 92111
We just got back from an overdue visit to Portland over the last couple of days. The very busy Cathy was kind enough to cover (as usual) for us. The somewhat ironic thing being, the weather when we returned from Portland, was more like Portland than Portland was....or something like that! Anyway, after feasting on foie gras and bone marrow (posts to come) having some soup was quite nice. So here's where I've been since we got back.
Something I've noticed over the last couple of years. As "Mom" gets older, the broth for the Bun Bo Hue sometimes is rather heavy handed with regards to MSG, or even spiciness. Such was the case on this day....not to say I didn't finish every lemongrass tinged drop of soup.
The Hen Xuc Banh Trang however, was a spicy-peppery-savory joy to devour.
Mien Trung Restaurant 7530 Mesa College Dr San Diego, CA 92111
I know, they've just opened and I'm doing a revisit post already.
Call me cynical, but I've been kind of down on pho in Kearny Mesa for a while so when I actually had what I thought was a decent bowl here, I had a hard time believing it wasn't a fluke.
So, on my return, I didn't order the rare steak, which was cut to thick, making it quite dry the last time, and just went with the brisket, flank, etc..... the brisket and flank were dry and tough; but the tendon was quite nice as was the tripe.
Of course, there was the broth.....for me broth is the key. This time it was a bit different; not quite as rich and still a touch too salty. The flavor however was pretty much the same mildly beefy, faint anise, strong shallot-onion. Not bad at all. The noodles were even prepared better this time and there was a more generous (and better quality) amount of herbs and sprouts.
So maybe there's decent pho to be had on Convoy after all.....
Pho Paradise 3904 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
Pho Nhu Y:
The weather had got me craving Bun Mam for some reason. I really didn't feel like heading to City Heights. So I headed over to Pho Nhu Y on Clairemont Mesa, which is run by the original owner of Nhu Y. I even went after the 3pm Bun Mam hour. They had declared Bun Mam off limits until after 3pm as to not offend their gringo lunch crowd. Anyway, I found, much to my disappointment that Bun Mam is no longer offered. Bummer....... So what to order? Heck, wanting some noodle soup, I went with the Bun Rieu ($8.75).
The bowl arrived scalding hot....and the positives stopped there. The soup was tasted like pho broth with a touch of tomato and a tiny bit of seafood flavor, but not enough to make it proper bun rieu. There were little crumbs of a meat paste which had no flavor...this was mainly cha lua and fried tofu. I call this "shadow soup"...where a noodle soup; like Bun Bo Hue/Bun Rieu/Bun Mang Vit is made to barely reference the true flavors.
Well....at least I wouldn't be "offending customers" right? I know this place can do better....
Pho Nhu Y Vietnamese Grill 5375 Kearny Villa Rd San Diego, CA 92123
So I've got a kind of new reader....I think. At least the person has been emailing me.....very entertaining emails......telling me I really don't "represent" what true San Diegans eat, or want to eat. Which perhaps is the point of the blog, right? Anyway, I got sent some photos of what, according to this reader, "real San Diegans" eat. And was asked why I don't post on stuff like that....... Great thing is, I can just use the photo sent to me:
Hot Dog....mmmmm. I actually enjoy hot dogs. Heck, I have a whole category devoted to them. Still, perhaps not this one; though it's a good bargain (much better when it was Hebrew National)....maybe one day, never say never, after all, I've had worse at Costco. Still, this makes me chuckle because it reminds me of my good FOY's (Friend of Yoso) "Xiang Jiao" (you can see her here taking a cleaver to a whole roasted pig we snuck into a karaoke room - as if you could really sneak a whole pig into one) road trip with "friends"....very frugal friends, who insisted on eating at every Costco they could find (they had it mapped out) along the way. Personally "XJ" is too sweet and patient....I would have mutinied....friendships would have been ended and blood (perhaps mine) would have been shed. But that's just me.......