I received an email after my post on JK's Burgers and Hot Dogs asking me what I thought about the Pho at the shop in the same mall. Pho shop? Same mall? I did a short search and by golly, there was Pho UTC and Grill just a few doors down......Man, I'm losing my touch in my old age....... Anyway, I decided to stop by on the way back from a meeting a couple of weeks back.
Pho UTC & Grill:
The place was really quiet when I arrived.
Clean and fairly non-de-script, in a modern pho shop kind of way.The service was adequate, not surly, not friendly, also quite generic. Things move along quite quickly...at least it did for me as I was out of the place in 30 minutes.
Which should kind of be the theme as the broth of the Pho Dac Biet was very "San Diego generic"......in other words, not beefy, lacking in anise, or any other real flavor, other than a mild onion and being quite salty.
The broth was on the "thin" side, lacking any richness. The color was nice and the broth clear.
The noodles were horrendously overcooked and mushy.
Surprisingly, the beef tendon was quite good with a nice mildly chewy, yet not hard texture. The rare steak was way overcooked and hard by the time the bowl made it to my table. There were meatballs in this version, typical, "squeaky" texture. All the other proteins were fine.
As you can tell, this wouldn't be a first, or even fifth or sixth choice...... though if you're in the area and absolutely needed a bowl....well even then. As MrZ and other "pho punners" would probably say, "not aw-pho, but totaly pho-gettable".
Pho UTC & Grill 8915 Towne Centre Dr San Diego, CA 92122
Geez Louise, it wasn't even 11 and the place was packed...mostly older folks....a category I probably qualify for now.
I went with the Bun Tam Hoai Hue ($8.45), their special version of Bun Bo Hue, that's even more special than their Dac Biet ("special") which is also on the menu. I guess it's their special, that's more special than their special....or something like that.
As with previous visits; this has been quite consistent; not very spicy, not enough lemongrass, lack of any kind of dark savory tones. On the other hand, the proteins are done better than Mien Trung and the crab cake, a staple of Bun Rieu is a nice addition. This was a decent bowl of soup; though as Bun Bo Hue.....well, I'm not so certain, it's much too tame.
Hoai Hue Vietnamese Restaurant 4660 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92115
The Missus had to work and I wanted something a bit richer than pho, so I headed up to Pho Lucky for my favorite version of Banh Mi Bo Kho.
I'd had a bowl recently that was too salty, but this one hit the spot. Rich, beefy-anise tones, not watered down like most places. Tons of tendon.....it just hit the spot. The baguette looked kind of weird, but was nice and warm if a bit too crumbly....almost like something from K Sandwich.
I just noticed something....over the years, I've never mentioned the nice supporting role the pungency of the onions, the cilantro, and how a tiny squeeze of lime just lifts the flavor of the beef stew.
As an added bonus, a refugee from Tan Ky Mi Gia now works here. Folks who used to go there know who I'm referring to. It was nice seeing him.......all was right in the world at that moment!
Pho Lucky 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92126
Pho Cow Cali:
Well, the guy who has been cutting my hair for 12 years sure does get around; from Mission Valley to Serra Mesa to El Cajon to College to his uncles house (during a bad spell he was pretty much homeless) to Rolando, to Oceanside, and now (though I'm sure I've missed as couple of locations) to Mira Mesa. He is the one person with whom I can trust cutting my hair.....not a big deal I guess, but I have a very loyal streak in me. He is also a great guy....... A nice bonus is that he's now located in Mira Mesa, which gives me another reason to head up there.
Since I'd already had something from Pho Lucky earlier in the week, I decided to drop by Pho Cow Cali since it had been a while.
In terms of pho I think this way; Lucky for the broth, "Da Cow" for the beef......
And I wasn't disappointed. I'm not a big fan of "Tai" (rare steak) in San Diego. It's usually (well always) really low quality top round with no fat which ends up being quite tough even with the slightest sunk into the hot broth. The proteins on this day; though tripe and tendon seemed to be at premium, was fine as always. Now Ralph Waldo Emerson might have said "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" but he was referring to a "foolish consistency", of which PCC usually does not participate....at least in terms of meat.
The broth, on the other hand can sometimes be MSG overload....though that was not the case on this day. I will say, that it was a bit more defatted than I would have preferred. Maybe I should be like my fellow blogger Dennis and just automatically do the Nuoc Beo thing (BTW, we miss your posts Dennis - hope you are doing well).
The noodles were also a bit softer than I prefer, but overall, not a bad bowl....better than almost everything else in San Diego.
One thing I never noticed before....the, umm, well, is it the logo, which for some reason I found kind of strange since it looked more like a goat than a cow......and for some reason found strangely familiar....like "do I know you? Have we met before?" I can't put my finger on it right now......
Pho Cow Cali 9170 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
This used to be Quiznos, which I don't has fared quite well over the last couple of years. I believe we need some good independently owned west of the 805, so this was, at least for me, a welcomed sight. The interior has been redone, in what I call "modern pho".....that is, it is clean (should be because it's new, right?), simply done, sort of like Pho 46 or The Pho Shop. Of course, the standard issue televisions were present and accounted for as well.
I believe the owner also owns Pho Nam Cali in National City.
You know what I ordered, right? Looking at the location and then the menu I knew that this shop catered to more western sensibilities with regards to pho....in other words you won't find every combination of protein for pho on the menu. It's basically 8 variations, including Pho Filet. i just went with the Dac Biet. A small will set you back $7.50.
I didn't anticipate much in the way of garnishes and my expectations were met.
The broth looked disappointing, fairly cloudy, a bit too defatted. Almost no nose to speak of, very faint beef, no anise, savory-onionyness. The flavor was quite salty, but very flat after that. The portion looked quite small, which is fine since the broth was too salty to finish, even after touching it up with lime to cut the sodium.
The clumped noodles were quite good with a nice stretch.
As for the proteins....tripe MIA, the rare steak really tough and overcooked by the time the bowl hit the table....need to order this on the side. The tendon was good, soft and close to that buttery texture I like. The brisket was tasty and well prepared. Not much meat in the bowl though.
Not really a good value in my book. The guy running the front was very nice though. Quite friendly and efficient.
Since the place is close to home and work, it was easy enough to make multiple visits. Wasn't sure what to order on my second go around. I saw the Goi Cuon on my previous visit and it really didn't seem like something I'd enjoy here.
So I started with the Bò nướng hành ($6.50) - basically Grilled Beef Rolled around onions.
The fragrance was nice, the beef a bit on the tough side, but well flavored - sweet-salty, very straight forward teriyaki/bulgogi like. The onions were mild and overall this was a pretty good choice. The nuoc mam cham was on the mild side and the portion is gringo sized.
I also ordered the Bun with Pork, Shrimp, and Cha Gio ($9.95). Again, this seemed a bit on the pricey side.
Too much filler in the standard issue egg rolls, but the grilld pork was nicely flavored and not too tough. The shrimp seemed a bit overcooked. This looked like a pretty large bowl and I thought it was going to be a total carb bomb. However, half of the bottom was filled with lettuce. So in terms of being a salad.....well, this was pretty good. The bun was prepared perfectly as well. I did have to ask for more nuoc mam cham for this. A fairly expensive lunch, but not bad.
As I mentioned earlier, the guy working here was very nice and service was fine. So.......third time's the charm, right?
Plus, I did want to try the Fried Chicken Wings ($6.95), actually butter wings.
Not quite top notch, the fry job wasn't perfect and the skin wasn't as crisp as I would like. The seasoning left a bit to be desired, more pungent flavors, even, gasp, more salt! It was super hot, though there seemed to be a bit of "seepage", that is a lot of the meat had dark pigment, which made me wonder about how this was handled when freezing.
I finally took a good look at pages other than the first two on the menu and noticed Phnom Penh Noodle Soup ($7.95) under "Specialty Noodle Soups"....wow, one of my favorites. So I ordered it.
In retrospect, I sould have known better. I mean, how many Pho shops do you know that serve a good Hu Tieu Nam Vang? From the unblanched bean sprouts.....a good indication of the portion size is the bean sprouts in relation to the soup spoon.
The noodles were Banh Pho, not Hu Tieu. The meat, what what there was; was dry and flavorless chicken breast, standard issue meat balls, and shrimp, which actually wasn't bad. I actually had to bust out the chili paste to dip the pieces of chicken in.
The broth was terrible, bland and insipid. Bad move on my part. Lesson learned.
So there you go. New place, nice and clean.....really nice folks, but "pho not to offend". Honestly, there are worse places for pho in the area, but that's not really a reason to laud yet another mediocre bowl, right?
Pho Hut & Grill 5252 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92117 Hours: Open Daily 10am - 9pm
A few months back, I took a day off to meet some relatives who were visiting LA. I left quite early in the morning and hit Westminster at about 830 am. I decided to grab a bite to eat and it had been a while since I'd had pho in Little Saigon, so I decided to stop and get some. I checked out a couple of places and they were surprisingly busy, so I settled on Pho Quang Trang 2 which is in Asian Village Center right on Bolsa.
I hadn't been to this location of PQT, but I had been to the original location way back in the mid-2000's. From what I recall, they made a decent bowl of Pho Ga. I really wanted a obwl of Pho Filet Mignon, which is what I ordered. (small bowl - $6.45)
One of the main reasons being that I think I've gotten kind of used to the typical bowl of pho in San Diego, low in beef flavor, low in clove-scorched onion--anise tones, and high in salt/msg. I just wanted to get some bearings with regards to pho. First off, there was a bit less herbs than I was used too, but what there was sparkling fresh. The noodles were in the typical clump, but nicely done, still having a good amount of stretch to them. The broth looked darker than I expected, but was quite mild in the sodium department, at least compared to what I'd been having the last couple of months. Overall, a light beefiness, a bit too light in the fat department, but better than just about every place in San Diego. Not sure where it ranks within Little Saigon, wince I haven't had too many bowls over the last few years.
The only thing that I didn't enjoy was that the filet was still a bit too frozen, still stiff and solid, taking too long to get to the correct doneness and cooling off the broth too quickly.
The Missus has a style all Her own. She keeps me on my toes; I never know what Her latest obsession will be. Recently, She's become a bit of a coffee nerd, pour over coffee to be precise. One morning She sent me a text telling me She's ordered V60 "stuff".....my response was "what do you need a missile launcher for?". I came to find out that She wasn't planning on taking out any tanks, but rather, was ordering the gear she needed to make pour over coffee at home. Of course, what's coffee without beans, right? Which is how we started visiting places like Dark Horse and Portola, with me having stuff like Kyoto Drip Coffee. Anyway, Her favorite current source of beans and a nice cup of coffee is Bird Rock and on this morning She was thrilled.....they had something called Panama Geisha, supposedly the best Panama has to offer. It was ten bucks for V50 pour-over, yikes! Still, I believe it was important for Her to try it....once....since She's really enjoying Her coffee. The guy working here was really nice and told the Missus, "it's perfect......I want to make sure you enjoy every last drop!" Which She did....It's really smooth and fruity....a bit too smooth for me...it is quite lovely, but I like a bit of acid and bite in coffee. I am glad She got a chance to try it. She also bought some Kenyan to grind (by hand) at home....She's started to keep the labels of the various beans She buys to remember what She enjoys. My goodness, I'm married to a coffee nerd in training.
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters 5627 La Jolla Blvd San Diego, CA 92037
Then it's off to Pho Lucky:
So it's like in the 80's at 8 in the morning. What does the Missus want to have? Well, pho of course.... wha???
We actually ordered the same items as on this visit. Today the broth wasn't too salty and loaded with MSG, there was a nice clove-5 spice backbone to the broth. Lot's of tendon which the Missus gave to me.....along with all those perfectly cooked noodles....She stayed with the broth and meat. I'm still not a fan of the Missus dumping all those jalapenos into Her broth, but hey, it's Her soup, right?
I ordered the combination broken rice; most of which (except for the Bi, which the Missus inhaled) came home for a light lunch. I was too full after eating all those noodles.
Things were divided up as follows, pork chop and rice for me, shrimp stuffs for Her. She also had the "cha" which seemed like it had been sitting around for a while, it was too dry for my tastes, but the Missus enjoyed it. Such is how couples who have been together forever eat I guess.....
Pho Lucky 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92126
Gyokai Natto Don from Izakaya Sakura:
I was on my own for dinner. All this hot and sticky weather has me craving certain "comfort" food.....specifically natto. I hadn't been here in a while, and not for dinner in ages.
In fact, I hadn't been here since they cleaned up their menu....it's much more easy to read now...it made it so easy to find the Nankotsu Karaage - fried chicken cartilage. I love the crunch of well prepared chicken cartilage and this was fried perfectly.
The coating was nice, light, and crisp, though I think I'll need some togarashi next time as it needed a bit of umph.....
The combination of raw fish and ika (squid) combined with the sticky stringy natto was just what the doctor ordered. Soy sauce and wasabi just brought everything together for me. The agedashi tofu that comes with this wasn't cooked properly, the coating was gummy and didn't hold up.... otherwise, this was the perfect meal for today.
Izakaya Sakura 3904 Convoy St #121 San Diego, CA 92111
So. You see what we've been eating during this hot and sticky weather....what have you been eating?
It seems that I'm finally getting back into some semblance of a routine and I finally got back over to City Heights/Rolando for a look see. It's probably been about 2 months since I was last around here. Turning on University from 54th I quickly noticed that Pho Tay Do was gone, replaced by a very familiar name.
Dakao....wow. I'm not sure of the whole backstory of Dakao, but I do understand that it is one of those treasured "brands/names" that evokes reactions. The neighborhoof of Đa Kao in Vietnam is reknown for the Pho Ga - chicken noodle soup. In fact, the last time I had a decent bowl of Pho Ga was at DaKao in Little Saigon...it was quite good, I believe the place even had it's own poultry shop on Bolsa.
So, no brainer right?
The interior has been pared down and looks even more spartan that Tay Do.
Of course I got the Pho Da Dakao (small $5.95).
This is a basic bowl of white and dark meat chicken with some offal thrown in for good measure.
The white meat chicken was surprisngly tender if lacking in flavor.
The broth was much too light, falling short with regards to having a nice poultry flavor, and was super salty......and I like salt and MSG, but in appropriate amounts. This one made my feet swell after just a couple of sips.
If I recall, it's normal to get a version of a sweet chili sauce for your chicken with pho ga. What I had here was a remnant of Pho Tay Do, the garlic-ginger sauce.
The noodles were horrendous, really mushy, not very pleasant to eat at all.
The young lady serving me was very nice as was the young lady working the cash register. I was on the fence about coming back, but I try to do my due diligence with places like this so I decided to return.
This time around I paid a bit more attention to things and noticed something on the front cover of the menu....apparently, this location of Dakao is a franchise that looks like is from Texas....so nhbilly, know anything about these guys?
Since I thought the chicken in the Pho Ga was okay, why not go for the Com Ga Hai Nam.....Hainan Chicken Rice ($6.25). It's actually a pretty good looking dish.
The chicken was very moist, of course it was bony, it's a leg after all, so it was a bit ponderous eating it. The flavor was pretty straight forward and lacking any flavoring from aromatics. It was nicely poached though.
The rice was a tragedy, it was hard, dry, and worst of all, lacking in the true flavor of the rice that should be served with this dish.....there was a faint chicken flavor...very faint. Usually the rice is cooked with the poaching liquid of the chicken, along with some chicken fat, then garlic, ginger, shallots, and sometimes lemongrass is added for depth. This had none of the above.
That was pretty sad because I consider the rice to be just as important as the chicken in this dish.
So I don't know......I'll probably drop by again in maybe a couple of months? It's slim pickins with regards to pho ga in San Diego. But as you know, I'm not the kind of guy who is "just happy to have it"...... Hopefully, things will get better...there's potential, so we'll see. Will it remain one of those places with untapped potential as Pho Tay Do did?
Pho Dakao And Grill 5296 University Ave San Diego, CA 92105 Hours: Open Daily 8am - 9pm
I tried to get my fill of noodles before our trip; here's a rundown of a few of those revisits:
It had been over a year and a half since I visited "Sakura's Son of a different Mother", the Japano-Italian Ristorante Kaz. I'm not super fond of that fusion. Though, while I thought having the same type of pasta for almost every dish a bit tedious, I did enjoy a couple of items I had. So I decided it was time for a return.
It's good to note that the lunch prix fixe menu still has a base price of $12 for a salad, soup, and pasta. There are upcharges for various substitutions for each course. This means that top price for the lunch would be about $18....kind of pricey.
I decided to try some of the substitutions this time around, starting with the marinated vegetables in the place of the standard salad, a $1 upcharge.
I'd say save your money here; this is more like a couple of grilled vegetables and one that should have been roasted (the red bell pepper), but was not, with some vinegar and olive oil thrown on it.
The potato soup ($1 upcharge) was not bad.
This version was a bit less thick and creamy, lighter in texture overall. It needed a bit more salt.
I went with one of my favorites here the Shishito Pepper and Mushroom with "Citrus" Flavor.
The pasta, as in my past visits was nicely done. I did notice some fairly significant changes; there was a lot less shishito and mushroom. I also think they aren't using much, if any yuzukosho, as I couldn't detect anything but a very strong and bitter white pepper flavor which detracted from the dish.
Too bad I guess. I will say that when I left the place was packed....with women and infants; the Japanese National version of "women who do lunch" with strollers, highchairs, and such. Perhaps they've found their niche. For me, it was just a bit too much carbs.........
Mom was less heavy handed with the MSG this time around and the lemongrass flavor and the spice up front.
The Hen Xuc Banh Trang - Stir Fried Baby Clams with Rice Crackers was a spicy-peppery joy to eat. The left-overs come home with us and we eat it with rice the next day......I believe this was the last time I ate rice until tonight, something like 6 weeks!
Mien Trung Restaurant 7530 Mesa College Dr San Diego, CA 92111
Yeah, I know, yet another post on this place. This time was different though. We both thought they went a bit too far with the MSG.....I know that San Diego is notorious for glutamic overload, but this was the first time I noticed it here. I hope this was a one-off....otherwise I'll have to stick with the Bo Kho.
Pho Lucky 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92126
I think the garnishes....the single sprig of basil and small amount of bean sprouts are an good indication of Pho in the area and San Diego in general....
The actual bowl of pho looked pretty good. I got number 19; rare steak (usually a mis-steak), well done steak, tendon, tripe, and flank.
The bowl actually looked pretty good when it hit the table. The broth was dark, but clear, and I liked the amount of fat. Another hallmark of San Diego pho is a totally defatted product, which just kills the richness.
Another unfortunate hallmark of San Diego pho is the sodium/MSG level. And of all the bowls I've had recently, this was probably the worst, way too much MSG.....it made the broth unpleasant. Too bad, because the color looked right and all....but man, I really couldn't taste much.
There was an amazing amount of noodles in this bowl....which was a "regular" ($6.69). Which was way too overcooked and mushy. Man, I really couldn't get a break here.
The proteins were decent, though the tendon was way tough and the tripe really hard. The rare steak was even ok.
I tried to hit as many Pho places as I could during the recent cooler weather. I happened to be down in Chula Vista and drove past this place. I last visited when it was Pho 888. Now it's Pho Royal....so that makes it; what, 3 different Pho joints in the last 6 years? Pho-real?
The exterior looks much better now that it's no longer giardia-green. The interior look basically the same, except for the wall of water and the elephant planters...which made it seem more like a Thai Restaurant. There were two young girls working....I assume they're the owner''s daughters....very nice kids.
The menu is interesting; regular or large bowl, then you can choose up to 7 different proteins for your bowl. I went with a small bowl - $5.95 and went with "C,D,E, & F"....that would be brisket, flank, tendon, and tripe.
As is the standard nowadays; the plate of garnishes is kinda sparse, mostly bean sprouts, a sprig of basil, a couple of slices of jalapeno.....
The broth was too light in flavor, slight anise, almost no beef flavor, a bit of sweetness, but not too salty. The noodles perfect, which was nice since most bowls I've had recently included over-cooked and mushy pho banh.
The tendon was MIA, there were but a few strips of tripe which tasted fine. The brisket and flank were cooked to death, just falling to shreds and the brisket tasted a bit "off"....a residual "ice-box" flavor permeated the meat.
The prices here seem in line, the bowl is "pho-not-to-offend" much too light in flavor, but at least it isn't a MSG bomb. I still think Pho Hiep makes the best bowl in the area....let me know if you think there's something better!
I recently received an email that made me crack up......I won't reveal the persons name because they didn't want me to. But the gist of the email was along the lines of "you're the only person I know who can write 300+ words about a bowl of frgiin' soup". Yes, it's true....I can and have done so again!
As I mentioned last week, the unusually warm winter makes me feel like there's some unfinished business out there..... I really never got my share of soup, specifically soup this past year! So now that we're getting some cooler weather, I thought I'd take full advantage. I also received two very nice emails from "John", the first after my post on Pho 46 telling me about a place right down the street on Miramar Road named Pho Ha Noi, he was nice enough to email me about the place again after I mentioned the Brodard knock-off nem nuong cuon at Pho Ban Mai, telling me that Pho Ha Noi also made a similar version of the spring roll and wanted my opinion on it. So why the heck not, right?
Admittedly, I usually have a place in mind when I'm around this part of Miramar Road and really don't pay enough attention.....Geez Louise, I'd probably not have found this place at all if not for John. I'm trying to recall what used to be here before. Some kind of Chinese Fast Food joint? The steam table set-up is still in place.
Anyway, the nice young lady handed me a menu and I started with the Nem Nuong Cuon ($6.99).
Now if the version at Pho Ban Mai is, say a cousin of Brodard, this would be some distant relative twice removed. It's not very good, too loosely wrapped, the meat was kind of greasy, along with being kind of sparse with salad mix carrots and such. There was that little crispy strip, but the sauce was kind of bland as well.
As for my pho, I ordered the #9 - Well-done steak, Brisket, tendon, tripe ($6.99). For some reason, I just didn't feel right ordering rare beef here, better to try the other proteins first.
At first glance, I didn't find the look of the broth to be very impressive; too cloudy, too low in oil, it just kind of reminded me of Pho T Cali. Like the appearance, the flavor was light, slight anise flavor, and not quite savory enough for my taste. At least it wasn't too salty. The noodles were perfect, nicely prepped, with a mild pull to them. The proteins were passable; the tendon was chewy, but not too bad, the brisket was tough, and the tripe had that mild, almost soapy aftertaste of something that hasn't been prepared the way I like.
I thought this was ok, nothing to go out of my way for, and I think Pho 46 has a ever so slightly better broth, though the noodles here were better.
Still, it was nice to try someplace new......I'm hoping to try a couple more places while the weather is still on the cooler side.