So returning from my trip, I needed a haircut....you know where this is going right? Well, Haircut Guy was now working in Spring Valley! Spring Valley? Like I said before, his moving around allows me to visit areas of San Diego I'd usually not explore. But where to go after my haircut? My first thought was Ranas, since I hadn't been back in years. Instead, having to get back home rather quickly; I saw this place in the same parking lot as a gas station.
I knew of Pho Minh in PB, but didn't know they had a location out here on the fringes of Spring Valley.
So I decided to drop by and have a bowl of pho.
The restaurant is quite tiny, though things are not crowded together. The two women who I've dealt with here are quite friendly and it seems they have a nice regular clientele.
Of course I went with the Pho Dac Biet.....just to see what was up. For some reason, I decided to order the large size ($7.99).
My order actually took a while, but the bowl was huge. I liked that the rare steak, in spite of being the usual rather tough top round, was still rare when the bowl arrived. Most of the proteins; the brisket, et al, were pretty bland, though the textures, especially the tendon was pretty much spot on.
I expected the sprouts and basil to be fairly sparse and it was.
And while the noodles were in the usual clump on the bottom of the bowl, it wasn't soft and mushy, and not cold.
The broth wasn't terrible, a bit too defatted for my taste, and while not very beefy, had a mild sweetness and wasn't too salty. So I didn't need very much lime to help balance things out. I've had much worse in Kearny Mesa.
I've worked every single day since we got back from our trip. Such is the biz. Still, my hair doesn't stop growing, and I needed a fresh trim....I had consultants coming into town and meetings with our customers. So, it was back out to Spring Valley for a rather quick turnaround haircut. So, as is the norm, I returned to Pho Minh. I'd seen Bo Kho on the menu, but when I ordered it, I was told that they don't make that at this location any longer. I had to make some quick choices. I quickly went with the standard spring roll, Goi Cuon ($3.95).
So when I said standard issue; I mean standard issue. Man, look at all that lettuce. Basically a salad in rice paper. And the shrimp was overcooked and rather chewy. Very generic and not something I'd order here again.
I noticed that there was a sign that listed Chicken Wings ($7.40), so I decided to get those as well.
So these were deep fried, then topped with stir fried onions and peppers to give it some umph. These were fairly small wings; which doesn't bother me because I'm more about the ratio of skin to meat. However, half of the wings were slightly burnt, making the exterior bitter, not good eats. Also, these were overcooked and rather dry. The flavor of the wings, the parts that weren't charred, was fairly bland, which explains the need for the "topping". Not my favorite rendition of chicken wings to be sure.
So in the end; possibly passable pho. Really nice folks, though perhaps a stop-gap, but not a destination for my pho-fix. Though I'm glad to have had the chance to visit a locale I usually wouldn't have on my list. As my haircut was complete and I paid my barber, he mentioned that he'd probably be moving on....business here was too slow. So who knows where he'll pop up next?
Pho Minh & Grill 2615 Sweetwater Springs Blvd Spring Valley, CA 91978
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
While completing my weekend "honey doo" lists a while back; I decided to return to Pho Hoa. Man, it's been like three years since I last visited this City Heights institution. And while I think this place has slipped over the years; the parking lot was almost filled when I arrived at 0845 on a weekend morning. So it's obviously one of the top choices in the area on a weekend morning.
Pho Hoa is totally old school; from the paying at the register, to the banquet chairs and sticky tables, to the menu being tossed at you and the Server hovering over you like it's expected that you've been here before and already know what to order....the menu is merely a vehicle that symbolizes all that Pho Hoa has. And what Pho had on this day was the same item I had last time #4.....which is now $7.40. All my experiences with the "tai" here have not been pleasant; there's a tendency for the meat to have a metallic taste to it. So I stick with the flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe.
This time around, the broth was much more acceptable, slightly beefy, not too heavy on the MSG, perhaps defatted a bit too much for my taste. The tendon was also decent as was the tripe. For some reason the flank and brisket fell short on this visit, the flank too tough and dry and the brisket lacking flavor.
There's one thing that has never fallen short here...it's the basil, cilantro (Ngo Gai), and sprouts.....always a generous portion, always sparkling fresh. I didn't need the lime today to balance out the broth, a good thing.
The noodles were also perfect.
These days, I sometimes fall into the trap of waxing nostalgically about the borderline indifferent, perfunctory, and hovering service.......I've noticed that things have changed at some of these places like Pho Hoa Huong. Even here, the guy smiled when he delivered my bowl of pho. The guy running the cash register even told me "thank you", when giving me my change. Changing times, I guess. I'm not sure when I'll be back to Pho Hoa, but at least this time around I got a decent bowl.
Pho Hoa Restaurant 4717 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92115
And while my last go around with Pho Hut wasn't bad; this was disappointing.
Well, at least the egg noodles were decent, not overcooked. But the broth was basically MSG water, lacking any depth, the char siu was tough and tasteless, and as with previous visits, the dumpling fillings just floated away from the wrappers....I guess you could look at the wrappers and say it's just another noodle and this should be pseudo meatball egg noodle soup.
Pho Hut & Grill 5252 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92117
And it did to a certain extent as the chashu was low on flavor and tough, so the kakuni pork did quite well. The noodles were nice and firm. Calvin loves the fresh pressed garlic with his ramen, while I think in this bowl it kills all the other flavors. I still think the broth could be hotter as it cooled quite quickly. The egg was decent, but the broth is not what it was when Yamadaya first opened.....lacking in flavor and richness.
The guys really enjoyed the Tori Nanban; the "Chicken Tartar" more.
Crisp, nice ginger tones, with a dose of vinegar........really good this time around.
As a bonus, John and Calvin treated me to lunch! Thanks guys!
Ramen Yamadaya 4706 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Recently, I was picking up my dry cleaning, when the nice lady who runs the place asked me what I thought about the new pho place that opened up nearby. I hadn't even noticed! I guess I kinda forget about The Village at Morena Vista. So I drove by and saw a grand opening sign for "Pho Kitchen". For some reason the name sounded familiar. A couple of days later I returned to try them out.
It's a very nice and clean little shop. There's both wood paneling and vintage Vietnamese black and white photos here. I guess they're not taking any design chances!
The young lady who took my order on both my visits was an absolute joy; kind, friendly, and efficient. What more could one ask for? Other than good pho, right? I also asked her if they had another restaurant in these parts since the name sounded familiar. She smiled and said "yes, Pho Kitchen in Oceanside". So there you go. I thought the name rung a bell.
The pho here was not too bad; definitely "pho not to offend", very mild, not too beefy, low in oil/fat, no anise/pungent flavors, but not terrible. The MSG level was not too high, the broth was super hot; like scalding hot, which I enjoy. The proteins were decent; the rare steak was actually pretty good, not the usual slices of cardboard, though everything else was just ok; the tendon was too tough and the rest pretty bland.
As expected with the target pho audience here; the place was light on the sprouts and herbs, though both were sparkling fresh. The noodles weren't in the usual clump, which was nice, but over cooked and a bit too mushy for my taste.
It was actually a not bad bowl.
Which meant I needed to revisit and try something else. After the pho, I was interested in the Bo Kho, so I got he Banh Mi Bo Kho ($8).
Much like the pho; this version of beef stew was rather mild in flavor, no tangy-anise tones, though slightly beefy, the carrots severely undercooked. The stew was on the thin side, but there were 5 rather large pieces of fork tender beef. Only one piece of tendon, which was not bad in texture. I would have enjoyed a bit more cilantro and onions. The bread was interesting as it reminded me more of a bolillo than a typical banh mi and had a mild sweetness to it. It was nicely warm and toasted though.
So here's the deal. Pho Kitchen and Pho Hut are about equidistant from my house and in opposite directions. In this case; I'd choose Pho Kitchen. If I'm looking for pho as I know and enjoy; I'd choose one of the more traditional places in Linda Vista, though I don't think they've held up well in recent years. If I want a relaxing pace, with middle of the road pho, but really nice service, it's Pho Kitchen hands down......unless I want to get the hell out of Dodge in 20 minutes or less. In that case, I'd go with the "fastest pho in the West". The prices are in line with all those "modern pho" places that seem to be popping up recently.
To get this out of the way. Yes, today we had record high temperatures, and yes, I'm still going to post on pho......
It's been a good three years since I last visited, so when the last storm system moved in, I decided to drive on over and see what was up with Pho Fusion. Apparently I wasn't the only one as the place filled up pretty quickly.
I was quite hungry so I started with the "Popcorn Chicken"
The batter t meat ration slides on over to the batter side on this one. If you like that kind of thing, you might enjoy this, as it's very crunchy. The "spicy mayo" was typical. It's not overly salty, but does get a bit crumbly as it cools. The would be pretty good beer food.
The Pho - #14, was decently priced for the area (small - $6.49.)
The sprouts and herbs were minimal, but like previous visits, a request for more was nicely accepted. The broth was slightly cloudy, but not heavy in MSG, the flavor was light, not veering too much in anise nor sweet flavors, though rather light in the beefiness department. It was rather light in protein, of which there was shortage of tendon and tripe. The noodles were in the typical clump, though not over cooked. This was "pho not to offend" on the right side of the scale as was quite evident from the crowd.
The service was nice.....even when that D-Bag of a customer knocked over a glass of water and while the guy was mopping it up told him, "don't forget to get me another glass of water".
Pho Fusion 8038 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
Pho Xpress - Mission Gorge Road:
Man, it's been five and a half years since I last visited, though Cathy's been here about four years ago. I was in the area on a recent morning with some time to kill. A bit hungry, I decided to drop back in to Pho Xpress. The whole strip mall was undergoing an exterior refresh at the time of my visit. This being around 0900, I had the place to my self.
As with our previous visits, the pho was decent, though it's not as rich, nor quite a beefy as it used to be. While the herbs and sprouts were lacking, the basil was especially fresh. The rare steak was presented nicely, not yet overcooked and dry and as a whole everything else was quite good. Not amazing, but quite solid if slightly heavy in MSG. The noodles were perfect.
A decent bowl of pho overall. The service here is still "A-B" - all business.
Pho Xpress 6533 Mission Gorge Rd San Diego, CA 92120
While leaving the strip mall on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard after my visit to Pho Fusion I took a quick look at the strip mall sign and was quite surprised. Take a look.......
Most of the restaurant listed are gone; some of them have been closed for quite a while.....
In fact, we've posted on the three places listed on the sign that are no longer there, Cathy has done Sushi Hut and I've posted on Aria and Mercury Grill, places that have been gone for years! I think Sushi Hut is not Hielo, Aria is now Chaba Thai and has been for almost three years, and Dumpling Hut took the place of Mercury Grill last June.
What's up with the sign? Could it be the mall owner is being cheap? Could it be that being on the sign is a curse....and they're hedging their bets by just saying "Mexican Restaurant"? Or....perhaps...maybe we're the curse since we posted on those three places and they closed? Hmmmmm.....I think some of the other businesses are gone too......strange.....
This place sure took its time opening. I first noticed the place back in September of last year. Since the build out was taking so long, I got into the routine of passing the place without taking notice. Unttil one afternoon, seemingly overnight, the Grand opening sign was up.
I guess orange and green is replacing wood paneling as a design preference? I do like the old style Vietnamese black and white photos on the wall though.
The menu was quite interesting. True to the name, Char House was serving up grilled items, and there were items like Banh Khot of the menu as well.
I was curious about the Fish Sauce Chicken Wings ($6.95), so I started with that.
Man, those were some pretty hefty wings. Personally, I'm more about smaller wings with a nice skin to meat ratio, but these were quite moist, and the glaze wasn't too sweet or salty. This was obviously deep fried, then sautéed, a bit too long in my opinion, which caused two of the drumettes to burn, thus making it a bit bitter....another product of taking a bit too long was that the crispness of the wings suffered a bit as well. Not bad though....I should get around to trying the butter wings in the future.
I saw Pho Filet on the menu, but went with the Dac Biet, not cheap at $8.25 for a small....we're starting to head into ramen pricing here.
The bowl was quite fragrant and the flavor of the broth was very, very, familiar. There was some nice anise, with a sweet edge to it, so I had to ask.....yep, same owners as Pho Fifth Avenue. This was actually the best pho broth I've had in Kearny Mesa in ages! Perhaps a bit too defatted; but very clear, bright flavors, and not too much MSG.
As you can see; like Pho Fifth Avenue, things were kind of light in the Sprouts and Basil area......I will say, because of the flavor of the broth, I didn't need to add any lime.
The proteins were really good; even the rare steak, while a bit overdone by the time the bowl reached the tableswas still fairly tender. The tripe was clean tasting and crunchy, the tendon adequate....nice beefy flavors from the flank and brisket as well.
There was one rather humorous instance. My bowl arrived with a regular metal spoon! I thought this was kind of odd......the thing is, it's just not the right tool for the job. So I walked on up to the counter and asked for a soup spoon. Grand opening hiccups and all that, right?
One other thing....I went to pick-up some noodles, which were in the typical clump at the bottom of the bowl and the entire bunch of noodles, in the shape of the bottom of the bowl arose! The noodles were well prepared, but it seems to have been sitting around in that bowl for a while because it wasn't very hot.
A few days later, I took two of my crew, Calvin and JohnF to lunch and thought it would be nice to try Char House again.
On my previous visit, I saw the grill set-up, so we decided to order some skewers. The nice gentleman, who I believe kind of manages the place told us that some of the items weren't quite ready for prime time. He told us since they didn't quite have what we wanted; he'd give us three filet mignon, three octopus, and four shrimp for $8! How could we say no?
The filet was tender and reminded me of Bo Luc Lac, though it was very mild in flavor. It came with a nice salty-sweet-savory dipping sauce that was a good accompaniment.
For JohnF, it didn't get much better than the grilled shrimp. It was prepped simply, but was very tasty, moist, head-sucking goodness. Very pure shrimp flavor.
Both Calvin and I enjoyed the Octopus; which were baby octopus a lot more.
Nicely grilled, great flavor, especially if you like baby octopus, toothsome without being tough. Make no mistake about it; this ain't refined and grilled over bincho like Taisho, but it's simple and good, street-side fare.
We also decided to try the Banh Xeo ($8.25).
More hard and lacquer than light and crisp, this could have used a bit more color. Not enough pork and shrimp and the bean sprouts were still slightly cold as well. Not even close to the version at Pho Ban Mai that we enjoy, though I've heard things have changed there recently. We did like the Nouc Mam Cham as it wasn't too watered down and not overly sweet.
There is the option to create your own bowl of pho here ($7.25), where you can add three proteins; so I chose Brisket, Flank, and Tendon.
This being the sister restaurant to Pho Fifth Avenue, I decided to add a plate of the filet ($5) as well. The broth was even better this time around, still quite sweet, but a bit more beefy. More sprouts and basil and the noodles, while still in a clump wasn't sticking all together.
The one nitpicky thing I experienced on this visit was that the temperature wasn't hot enough as it took quite a while to lightly "cook" the filet...which caused some scum and cloudied up my broth. Still, the beef was very tender.
I noticed something quite interesting....most of the customers were older Vietnamese folks. I guess they were trying out the new place in the 'hood. Also, we recognized the guy working the grill as formerly working at Pho T Cali. And no "pho-pas" with the spoons this time either.
The Boys enjoyed Char House so much that the both took their wives here that same weekend!
Meanwhile, I returned for lunch during the week to try the Cơm 7 Món ($12.95). My favorite part of the whole meal was the broth, which was quite flavorful.
The rice was really good, nice and fragrant, the shrimp plump and tasty, the "cha" (Steamed egg "meatloaf") moist, but quite mild in flavor, lacking the "porkiness" I enjoy. There wasn't much grilled pork or grilled chicken which were fine but nothing special, the "bi" (shredded pork skin") was under represented and bland as well, not enough rice powder and a bit dry. Was not a big fan off the shrimp paste in egg roll wrapper; I prefer the versions that use bean curd skin.
I can't really give this my seal of approval....it's kind of on the fence.
On my last two visits, I'd noticed a lot of folks getting the Banh Khot. I wasn't sure if I should check out the Banh Khot ($7.25), but what the heck. Plus the folks here are so darned nice. I decided to hedge my bets with a bowl of the Pho Filet (small - $8.95).
This really wasn't ready for prime time. And while the shrimp were really delicious, the "mini pancake cups" weren't crisp enough and the centers still doughy and gummy. I prefer versions that are more like what you get at Brodard:
Also, I think they need a bit more perilla and mint as well. The nuoc mam cham is pretty good. Nice try, but no cigar....yet it was still better than the last version of the dish I had in San Diego, which was terrifyingly bad.
The Pho Filet however, was quite good.
The broth had a bit more fat this time around; was less sweet, more anise and beef flavor. And most of all, perfectly hot.....you want just enough of a boil as to not agitate the broth making it cloudy. It got the tender beef to the desired doneness in perfect time.
So after almost 1480 words, it comes down to a simple, "I'm glad to finally have some decent pho in Kearny Mesa".
It's been really nice to see a lot of older folks checking this place out. I'm sure they're going through some growing pains here, but hope they keep getting better. I have a feeling the broth might be a tad too sweet for some. Really nice people working here, friendly and accommodating. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Char House Saigon Grill & Pho 7765 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92111
A recent weekend morning found me in Mission Valley. It's kind of interesting, when we first moved to San Diego, our condo was in MV, but these days, other than the Missus enjoying a shopping day, we almost try to avoid Mission Valley!
Funny thing, the service is totally like any pho shop on University....as in, "what you want"........
Haven't not been here in 10 years, I took the #49, regular, which was $7.69. Basically the proteins minus the rare steak, which I didn't think was going to be too good. What was really interesting was the plate of herbs and sprouts, which has got to be, the most stingy plate I've seen to date.
It was so amazingly stingy....I enjoy bean sprouts in my pho and have requested more on occasion, but this seemed a bit absurd. So, while waiting, I decided to count the bean sprouts.....which barely filled the palm of my hand. There were exactly 27 bean sprouts on that plate. Perhaps I could have requested more.....but really, should I have to beg for my sprouts?
So, lets get to the pho. The broth had nice hints of anise, but was lacking in richness and had way too much msg, the tendon and all the other proteins, including a decent amount of tripe was good. The noodles were a bit over cooked and mushy, but overall, it was hard to over come the amount of msg.
The service is typically perfunctory.....
Such is the state of pho in Mission Valley.
Pho Cali 1400 Camino De La Reina San Diego, CA 92108
So, I did Mike's BBQ, where I mentioned the beer offerings were much better than Coastal Crave's, which meant I had to return. I try to do a bit of due diligence when possible. This time, I avoided any of the dishes I had before and went with a simple burger.
But first, I can still say; there's not much craft beer here....they count Shock Top as a craft beer....
The Coastal Crave Burger?
Well, this was interesting. The burger was made to a nice medium, but the exterior was almost burnt and quite tough. Really sad, because this could have been a decent burger. Instead, it came across as being a bit bitter. The brioche style bun was good, the fried onion rings ditto....so close.
The young lady working on this evening was a joy; I believe her name is Kristin, or something like that. So maybe, maybe, since it's up the street......though they've got to step up their beers....
Coastal Crave 3065 Clairemont Dr San Diego, CA 92117
Here are a couple of places I haven't been to in ages.....
Man, would you believe the last time I was here was back in "the 'aughts"! 2006 to be exact......talk about a loooong time.
I ran around doing a ton of shopping during my first weekend back from our trip. I thought I should go ahead and visit this place since I pass it all the time and say to myself "I need to do a revisit".
So I parked in back of the place, walked in, had a seat, and ordered #4.........I saw the "Tai" (rare steak) on the way in and decided to pass.
The veggies and herbs were pretty fresh, even the two small leaves of Ngo Gai. The broth was actually better than I had here on previous visits.....no good mind you, but better. It wasn't too salty, but had a slight bitterness to it, had to temper with all the basil, which helped a bit. There was a very slight flavor of beef, but not much else. The noodles were decent, in the clump at the bottom of the bowl, edging on starting to get mushy, but not cold. The proteins were a mixed bag, the brisket tasted off, the flank very tough, but tripe was nicely prepped. Not much tendon.
Typical old school pho shop service, perfunctory, quick, and to the point. Not quite sure when or if I'll return......but hey, if they're still around in another 5-10 years, who know?
Pho Van Restaurant 4233 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92105
Pho Ca Dao (El Cajon Blvd):
While never a big favorite, I always enjoyed the tendon here, while the Missus used to enjoy the Bun Bo Hue here. I knew I hadn't been here in a while, but looking back at my old posts, I believe it's been almost 6 years! How quickly time flies!
The interior look pretty much the same as is the service, which wasn't bad....typical pho shop, but perhaps a bit nicer. The young man who seated me was pretty friendly.
Let's get straight to the pho....#4 here as well.
Man, I still love the tendon here; it's just the right texture for me, slight chew while still being very tender. In fact, all the proteins were good, in terms of flavor the flank, while stringy and falling to pieces had a nice beefy flavor. The broth on the other hand was quite bad....as in "where's the beef".....flavor. It's like they don't even use beef bones to make pho here anymore. Along with being too defatted it was also MSG heavy.....such is the state of pho in San Diego.
Sad because the pho banh was prepped well with a nice pull. Sad that the broth just didn't do it for me.......in spite of the tendon, it's the broth that's most important part of my bowl of pho.
We flew in on a Saturday and just wanted a simple inexpensive meal. The cool weather and light rain made soup inviting. So after taking the wrong freeway exit and driving around a bit, we arrived at Pho Oregon:
In a previous life, it had probably been a large Chinese restaurant and still had a lot of space and tables:
Tina suggested that we start with Tau hu ky:
It was really good. Crunchy fried tofu skin, mild dipping sauce, and seafoody interior:
And we both liked our soups. I had Pho Dac Biet:
The broth was mildly beefy, slightly sweet, and pleasant. But not great. The noodles, however, were plentiful and not all clumped up, and the meats were quite good:
The rare steak was flavorful, the fatty brisket and flank fall apart tender and rich, the soft chewy tendon abundant, and the meatballs nicely seasoned and not rubbery. Just a tiny amount of tripe, but I couldn't complain.
Tina is fond of Hu Tieu Dac Biet, here served with a pleasant light and porky broth and plenty of perfect noodles:
While the shrimp were slightly overcooked, the fish balls were very tasty. I don't recall the pork liver (Tina wolfed it down), but the sliced pork was chewy and dry.
What made both of the soups even better were the abundant herbs and vegetables: Look at all of the sawtooth and cilantro. Jalapeño and basil hiding somewhere on the plate but not in the picture.
So a week later, on another rainy evening, we returned. First, Banh Xeo – which certainly looked good flanked by all those herbs:
Opened up, however, not as impressive:
Yeh, plenty of bean sprouts, but few shrimp and they were sliced in half lengthwise. The two half slices of pork chewy and flavorless. Not great.
Tina decided to play safe and have the Pho Dac Biet. It was as good as previously. I decided to test the kitchen by ordering Bun Mam:
The bowl looked pretty good, but it lacked the strong pungent fragrance of good Bun Mam. I could imagine Kirk taking one whiff, looking sad, and shaking his head. The broth tasted mostly of fish sauce, somewhat thin and slightly acrid, and there was no shrimp paste among the condiments to funkify it.
On the positive side, look at the abundant rau thom; that's a huge portion of herbs and vegetables, all fresh and tasty:
And the soup was packed with good noodles, vegetables, and proteins. Everything, except for the pork, was really first rate. The shrimp were not overcooked, the catfish had no hint of muddiness and tasted especially fresh, and the eggplant couldn't have been better. All stirred together, the Bun Mam looked like this:
Many years ago, a freeway ran along the western bank of the Willamette River in Portland. Unbelievably, they tore down that freeway and replaced it with a long green park that stretches for over a mile, separating and uniting downtown Portland and the river:
Called the Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park to honor the visionary environmentalist who helped convert the Willamette from polluted sewer into the beautiful river that it is today (picture looking upstream from Willamette Falls):
McCall Park is a great place for sitting on benches, walking around,
or racing Segways:
Speaking of segues, at the north end of the park, adjacent to the Burnside Bridge,
on Saturdays (and Sundays too) for most of the year, you can find the Saturday Market:
and all sorts of handcrafts and art. For some reason or another I didn't photograph any of the beautiful and interesting artworks, but I did take some pictures of a few locally made T-shirts. Some of the shirts have typical funny slogans,
others are unique to Portland,
and some are perfect for a foodblog:
All this looking around and walking made us hungry, so we went to the food court area:
Numerous choices of all kinds of cuisines, but the Beirut Catering booth seemed to be doing a good business, and Tina and I were in the mood:
I ordered a shawarma and Tina the falafel sandwich. The pita bread for each of the sandwiches was warmed separately on a flat top:
The shawarma showed up first:
It was really good. The lamb had some gamy flavor, a bit of char, and just enough tenderness.
As we were tasting it, the man (it was a one-man show) scooped out two greenish balls of chickpea mush, and dropped them into bubbling hot oil:
When the falafel sandwich showed up, it looked magnificent:
And it tasted great. The exterior was dark and crunchy, the interior nicely balanced between smooth and coarse. The pita, falafel, tahini, tabouli, and veggies made memorable food music together. Outstanding!
We found a table nearby, sat down, had some conversations with other folks (people still talk to strangers in Portland), and watched the procession of beautiful well-trained dogs that strolled through and alongside the market. It was like a dog show. Of course, Tina and I forgot to take any pictures of the dogs. So, to make up for that, here is a picture of a local out walking his goat:
My first experience of Ethiopian food took place well over 30 years ago in Portland at Jarra’s, which I believe was the first Ethiopian restaurant in the area. All I remember was a warm and gracious owner/manager/waiter who served us a fall apart tender and fiery hot lamb shank. OMG good.
Anyway, Tina and I were in the mood for Ethiopian, and our friend Joanie told us that her family has been enjoying the Queen of Sheba for years. As you can see, the restaurant is in the fuzzy part of Portland:
The menu offered a page of vegetarian choices,
and a page of meat options:
I really wish that we had been able to visit this restaurant several times and try some entrées that I don't recall seeing in San Diego Ethiopian restaurants, like fish stew, chickpea cracker stew, lentils and okra, etc.
Especially interesting to us were the numerous mushroom options, so we ordered chicken and mushrooms in the milder alicha sauce and a combination of vegetarian sides.
As expected, the meal arrived covering a large thin injera pancake, which had a pleasant touch of sour tang.
We loved the chicken and mushrooms; a nice balance of textures, and the sauce was complex and interesting, giving the mushrooms, which soaked it up, an extra boost of flavor:
The yellow split peas were earthy and creamy:
The mustard greens, perfectly stewed, had a slight vegetal bitterness:
The golden brown shiro was a little soupy, but otherwise smooth and tasty.
The rather ordinary looking combination vegetables were well seasoned and presented a combination of textures and colors:
And the ordinary lettuce salad was fresh and lightly dressed
We left the Queen of Sheba full and happy, wishing we could return.
So I guess that's just one more reason why Tina and I have to get back to Oregon again (and again?).