Along with Krispy Krunchy Chicken, Saigon 5 occupies a space in the new 99 Ranch Market Foodcourt. They also open at 9am, which, with my current wacky schedule makes it quite convenient for grabbing lunch at say; 10am.
My understanding is that this is owned by the same folks who run Saigon on Fifth.
I've found this location of 99 Ranch Market to be fairly empty every time I've visit. At 10am on a weekday; the place looked like a ghost town.
Not sure what to get; folks who emailed me mentioned stuff like Pho Bo Kho, which I believe was a special. There were no specials during my three visits, so I was stuck with the regular menu. On my first visit, I just got a simple Dumpling Egg Noodle Soup ($6.95), which was nicely priced.
I appreciated the nice little addition of the pork neck, which kept me busy digging little bits of meat out of the crevices. Enjoyed the greens in the broth as well. The broth was a bit on the "thin" side for me. I think it could have been a bit richer, but the flavor, while on the mild side, mostly salt-pepper, was fine.
The dumplings were on the chewy side; though each one had a piece of shrimp (no, don't get excited, not a whole shrimp) in it. Again, a little weak in pork-shrimp and light with regards to seasoning.
The egg noodles were done right, a slight pull and crunch.
This was not bad at all.
So I returned and went with the Pho Dac Biet ($8.95). The comparison to the "Mi" was night and day. I think I have a contender for the worst pho in the area.
A couple of meatballs and some tasteless, chewy well done steak....that's what almost nine bucks got me. The broth was insipid, almost like just salt, water, and perhaps someone gleefully waved a beef bone over the broth to hopefully impart some flavor. It's almost like they used the same broth as the egg noodle soup, but with even less flavor. The noodles were all chopped short and mushy, totally over cooked.
Less said the better.....I'm trying to forget this bowl.
A couple of weeks later I returned and decided on the Banh Mi Dac Biet ($4.50) as my tie-breaker.
The bread was starting to go, you could tell by the texture. It was also ice cold. I liked the pate, which was nice. Rich and funky. Though the person who applied had pressed so hard into the bread causing one long divot of mushy bread from one end to the other. The pork belly and a cha lua were fine; but on the dry side. They also really like a lot of black pepper here. The pickled daikon and carrots were shredded fine and quite crisp; but in my opinion had not been pickled well as it lacked zip.
I'm not sure what to think about this place. My first visit was pretty good, but that pho was just not good, and while the banh mi was below average, there are places that do better, and are open early.
The service was fine, Both young women who work here are pleasant, though one seems a bit detached.
Saigon 5 5950 Balboa Ave (Inside 99 Ranch Market) San Diego, CA 92111
The mmm-yoso!!! gang has been busy for the past few days, with work, holiday parties, shopping trips and other end of year tasks. Kirk and Ed (from Yuma) haven't had time to write and Cathy is writing a short, pertinent compendium today.
We have had some very cold days this month and today it is wet and windy: Winter has hit San Diego. Kirk mentioned this last week. If The Mister and I aren't staying home and cooking, when eating out, at least one of us is ordering a warm meal that is served in a bowl and has a spoon as an essential utensil.
Kirk had mentioned that Mama Testa was re-opening, but neither of us has done a post. I've had the chicken mojados here ($10): rolled taquitos, cut and topped with lettuce and sour cream with a mild, chicken based broth on the side; you can pour it over everything to make an interesting soup-type meal. (The beef mojados is beef rolled taquitos and a spicy, red broth). This is unique and tasty. Mama Testa 9225 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126 website
The Bahn Mi Bo Kho ($7.50) at Lucky Seafood is indeed the best Vietnamese style beef stew; I have tried versions everywhere, planned on doing a comparison post and was frustrated with so many bad meals. Pho Lucky 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
Whenever The Mister and I stop at Chopstix Too, He takes His time looking at the entire menu and alwaysorders the same thing, mabo ramen ($7.45). Chopstix Too 4380 Kearny Mesa Road San Diego 92111 website We were back at Pho Hoa Huong after grocery shopping (and looking for 2017 calendars) and stopped in for a large bowl of pho tai ($7.25) which arrived with the beef still raw and cooking in the hot, flavorful broth. PhoHoa Huong 6921 Linda Vista Rd San Diego, CA 92111 Kirk had called his meals at Sam Woo BBQ 'early lunch'. The menu lists these under 'breakfast' ($4.25 each). I almost always order the fish porridge, but another choice is the shrimp dumpling noodle soup. Each is good and satisfying. Sam Woo BBQ 7330 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Ste 103 San Diego, CA 92111 An Item I haven't mentioned that is served at Tip Top Meats is the Beef Stew ($6.98). Made daily from scratch, limited in quantity, this rich, meaty, traditional stew is great. Tip Top Meats and European Delicatessen 6118 Paseo Del Norte Carlsbad, CA 92009 Website
Stay warm and dry!
Then again, you can just drop into a local grocer (this was at H-Mart) and grab something to enjoy at home.
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
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