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
After several visits to Pho Duyen Mai when they first opened a few months ago; I thought they really had some potential. The former owners of Pho Ban Mai had created a menu that was pretty much what they had served before. It's easy for me to do follow-up visits since they are close to work and opens relatively early, 9am giving me a decent late breakfast stop on "honey-doo" weekends.
Here's what I've had since my post back in September.
"Som Tommy" mentioned the Bo Luc Lac in the comments of my previous post. So I thought I'd give it whirl.
This was not bad. The marinated cubes of beef were quite tender; the overall dish wasn't too greasy. The flavor was much too salty and this could have used some sweetness, or even better, a good, citrusy Muoi Tieu Chanh, the lime - fish sauce based dip that is standard with Bo Luc Lac. The sauce that came with this was mostly fish sauce, making things even more salty.
Actually, I kind of enjoyed the buttery simple fried rice.
A few weeks later, early on a Saturday morning, a bit hungry, I decided to drop by again. The place was empty except for a family enjoying a nice breakfast.
I wasn't really sure what to order, but ended up going with the Bun Rieu.
This wasn't my cup of tea. While the correct thinner bun was used and was prepped well; the broth was really bland, lacking in any of the "crabby-shrimpy" savory flavors, nor any real tomato flavor.
The most interesting thing was the crab-pork-egg cake. I'm used to the firmer, almost squeaky version of this. But here it was a light, almost airy in texture, though still rather light in the taste department.
So, that other than a follow-up visit to retry the pho was going to be it for a while. Then my coworker, Calvin mentioned that even though they don't have Banh Mi Bo Kho on the menu, they have Pho Bo Kho, there's a photo of it in the menu. So he pointed to it one day and got the Banh Mi Bo Kho, which he really enjoyed. Now, in all honesty, in my opinion, Calvin doesn't have most sophisticated, educated palate, but I thought I'd give it a try.
This was pretty good; not on the level of, say, the version from Pho Lucky. Though if you care more about the amount of beef, some of which was tender and some of which was not, and don't care much for tendon you'll like this. The carrots were under cooked. The broth was not bad, better than what I'd recently had Cow Cali (in terms of texture and beefiness Pho Hoa Huong was better), but still too thin, light in tangy tomato or beefiness. It did taste like thickened pho broth with tomato and black pepper. The bread was nicely warm and toasted. Not bad overall, but I'll stick with Pho Lucky's version.
So there you go.....well, I did forget about the pho didn't I? I'm thinking I need to do another pho round-up one of these days......
The folks here have always been quite nice and I'm glad to see that, at least on weekends, there seems to be quite a few Vietnamese families having breakfast and lunch here.
Pho Duyen Mai 5375 Kearny Villa Rd San Diego, CA 92123 Open Daily 9am - 9pm
Near the ending of our trip; I received a text from Cathy (aaah the joys of modern technology). Pho Lucky had finally reopened....and just to add that little twist of the knife; Cathy had visited and had what I had been craving.....the Banh Mi Bo Kho. So, of course after returning Saturday evening; having to take care of my "Honey Doo" list....I headed straight to Pho Lucky for my fix.
There was one small problem......this past Sunday morning was the time change....we'd already experienced the time change while in France the week before....so I basically ignored my phone....I was focused, and the clock in the car said 915, when I arrived....it was actually 815 and Pho Lucky wasn't opened yet. The irony of it all.....
Luckily (no pun intended), it was only about 15 minutes until the place opened, so I went and did a couple of things....and returned at 845. After all, I really didn't want to appear to excited about having the Bo Kho here, right?
Both Cathy and Alan from Clairemont (in an email), mentioned that Lucky really didn't look much different. I noticed the change in the colors of the walls; but the same somewhat sticky tables were the same as was the configuration.
Still, who really cares....I was here for one reason.
The Banh Mi Bo Kho is now $7.25. I think this is a slight increase in price; but really can't remember.
The standard issue bread was nicely toasted though nothing special.
The broth was a bit thinner than I recalled; maybe they've got to get things back in orders; though it was nicely beefy, but with a bit too much black pepper in it this time around. Not overly salty, hints of anise, the carrots were decently tender; the slightest touch of lime to adjust the flavors....all was right in the world. At least for the moment.
The rather large pieces of beef were well flavored and while it could have been a bit more tender did well....ditto for the rather gigantic piece of tendon.
All in all, this was better than what I'd had while Lucky was closed. And my craving was taken care of.......after two months mind you....but heck, I did get my fix.
Pho Lucky 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92126
Today's posting of mmm-yoso!!! is written by Cathy. The guys are busy doing other things.
It's that time of year again; birthday week for The Mister and myself - a week apart; eight days of eating out. Our standard modus operandi is that He gets to choose meals for the first three days, we jointly choose meals the middle two days then I get to choose restaurants the last three days. Putting the posts together, I noticed patterns in our choices this year.
The turmeric coated stir fried fish lightly floured and coated in turmeric and hot pepper flakes, fried until the coating is crisp and topped with stir fried onion, Chinese celery and bell pepper. The numbing shows up at the end while the flavors of the fish and vegetables all come through at first. To accompany the plate of turmeric yumminess, I chose the oyster mushroom with shrimp noodles, which is tasty on its own but neutral enough to have as the 'side' (instead of rice). The bottom of the pot holds a buttery garlic surprise of chopped shrimp and some dried shrimp. It's rare to find any XLB in San Diego, so we chose these soup filled dumplings which were made to order and came out midway through the meal. None were broken and the skins were not chewy at all; quite tender yet not thin. The pork filling was very delicate, had a light crunch (water chestnut) and, of course, pork flavor.
Szechuan Chef 4344 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111 (858) 279-8881
When it was one of 'my' days to choose a celebratory meal, it was back to Bolsa. Immediately I knew what I wanted. The turmeric fish-Vietnamese style! (cha ca thang long)The fish is coated in flour, turmeric and egg then pan fried with dill and green onion. It's served sizzling on a cast iron platter. Wrapping the fish with some mint in the lettuce and dipping it in the fish sauce is just a perfect grouping of flavors. Not numbing, just tasty. We also ordered a Banh Xeo (which has turmeric in the pancake batter) and is filled with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork as well as some mung beans.
The Mister wanted the pork and shrimp Spring rolls, made to order. Fresh!
Bolsa 9225 Mira Mesa Blvd Ste 118 San Diego, CA 92126 (858)693-3663 Open daily 8:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
There were a couple more 'overlapping' meal choices this year. The Mister and I have similar-yet different- food cravings. Stay tuned!
Just a few weeks after Cathy's most recent post on Van Hoa, the place changed ownership and Pho and Banh Cuon Ha Long was born. Banh Cuon? I've yet to have a good version in San Diego, so I was intrigued. And then our good "FOY" (Friend of Yoso) "YummyYummy" told me it was the same owners as Suong Hong and my excitement was tempered.
The place looks basically the same....a bit run down, sticky tables and all.
And the Banh Cuon Dac Biet ($7)? Well, you've read it before; banh cuon a bit too thick, lacking pull; the nuoc mam cham a bit too thin for my taste, the nem chua not quite sour or flavorful enough.
Not my cup of tea. But if you expect Song Huong, you'll be satisfied.
Still, the young lady was very nice......the guys hanging out front gave the place "that atmosphere", and I recalled the Bun Bo Hue at Song Huong being, well, not terrible. So I ordered it ($7.50) on my next visit.
This was an interesting bowl....from the ngo ngai topping the bowl, to the meatballs in the soup (I think it was there to replace MIA cha lua). The vegetables, though fresh really fell short; almost all shredded cabbage and bean sprouts.
The broth was scalding hot; a good start, mildly spicy, not very complex in terms of lemongrass and pungent flavors.
And the most annoying, the noodles seemed to be cut in half and thirds, making them very short......very slippery and short.....
A pleasant surprise was the two pieces of pork hock in this bowl. It was fun gnawing on the skin, connective tissue, and the toothsome, but not too tough meat. The pork was also nicely flavored, though the other pieces of meat fell short, and no tendon!
Like my other experience with BBH at this family's restaurants, not terrible, ok "pho shop Bun Bo Hue", but nothing amazing.
A week later I was in the area and being quite hungry, decided to drop by for a late breakfast (according to the sign, they now open a 6am!). I was going to try the pho, but chose the Com Tam Dac Biet instead. This was actually not bad; except the broken rice was too dry and hard for my taste.
The Bi with the flavor of the roasted rice coming through was good, though a bit dry. The Cha was on the cold side, dry, and more chewy than I care for. The pork chop had a very nice flavor; edging more on the salty than sweet, but other than that little nugget with the fat on the end, was also on the chewy side. The broth accompanying the meal was nice and rich, though it had a bit too much MSG for me.
Based on my meals, I'd definitely say YMMV here. Though if they're really open at 6am....heck, I'll need to try breakfast, right?
Pho & Banh Cuon Ha Long Restaurant 4016 54th St San Diego, CA 92105
I really wanted the Banh Mi Bo Kho from Pho Lucky unfortunately, they are still still closed for remodeling. At least the sign has changed and said "closed for painting". So I decided to see how the Banh Mi Bo Kho was at Pho Cow Cali. They sat me in the section by the restrooms in back....then proceeded to forget about me. Luckily, I managed to flag one of the army of servers down and place my order ($7.25).
So, beyond the rather odd serving dish.....I'm guessing there was a sale somewhere, what to say about this. In keeping with "Cow Cali" there's quite a bit of meat....it's flank and brisket and is quite tender. I really missed the tendon though. The broth was much too thin and this was really salty...as in the "MS heebie-geebies" salty. The bread was nice and warm though I'll stick with the pho here next time.
And of course, there's the typical pho shop service.
Pho Cow Cali 9170 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
This was pretty good; the broth was a bit richer than what I've had in the past. The intestine was prepared well; slightly "offal-y", but quite clean. The noodles nice and chewy with a bit of stretch and the blanched bean sprouts adding a bit of crunch to things.
A bit better than I recalled....and a nice choice on this morning.
777 Noodle House 4686 University Avenue San Diego, CA 92105
Man, they just opened in April! Cathy sent me a text about this and I went to check out their Facebook Page:
"Char House September 14 at 9:03pm To our valued guests, Char House is now CLOSED. Thank you for your support and we hope to continue serving you at our other location in Hillcrest: Pho Fifth Ave. 3807 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103."
I drove by yesterday.....
Geeez.....the Grand Opening sign is still up.....
7765 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92111
Yum Cha Café Closes:
Cathy also mentioned this to me as well. Notice the trash bins in front of the door. The place caused a bit of buzz and opened to lines. But slowly got worse and worse and based on what I had during my last visit, they really did seem like they were circling the drain.
6933 Linda Vista Road San Diego, CA 92111
Since we've been on 99 Ranch Market watch here at mmm-yoso...... The sign has been up for a couple of weeks.
What really piqued my interest was when my good friend "YummyYummy" told me that this place had some relationship to Pho Ban Mai. I also noticed that the place opens at 9am, which was great. As I mentioned earlier, my schedule is now chocked full of meetings, often between 11 am and 1 pm. So having another early lunch option was great. One morning, having had meetings from 7am all the way to 930, I was starving. I usually get to work between 6 and 630 and hadn't eaten anything that morning. I had meeting scheduled out to the early afternoon, so I escaped for a quick meal at Duyen Mai.
They've done a nice job with the place....actually done a bit of renovation. The menu really did look like Ban Mai.
I was ravenous, but really didn't want any noodle soup....I had on a light colored shirt and really didn't want to embarrass myself with blots of soup stains on my shirt. I just don't wear them with as much style as Ed from Yuma does after a meal at Mien Trung!
I decided to try the Chicken Wings in Fish Sauce ($9).
These were nicely glazed, though not as crisp as I prefer. The sauce was adequate, slightly sweet, savory, with the distinct flavor of ginger. The actual meat was on the dry side. Adequate, but nothing special.
If there was one dish which almost never let me down at Pho Ban Mai, it was the Banh Xeo ($8.50).
This was pretty much like what I had on my last visit to Pho Ban Mai early last year. The batter was light, though without as much coconut flavor as I recall, and not too oily at all. It was pretty light in the filling department; especially with regards to pork. Still, it's all about proportion with this, so this was not bad. The nuoc mam cham tasted a little watered down; but the herbs and lettuce were sparkling fresh. I could only finish half and took the rest back to the office; where "R" just devoured it. Apparently, she's a fan of Banh Xeo.
The folks here are very nice and friendly. I had short chat with the woman who I believe is the owner. She informed me that the had sold Pho Ban Mai a while back and after a break decided to open another restaurant.
I returned that weekend. I was surprised to see the place doing decent business on a weekend morning. While the customers seemed split 50-50 on my previous week. This time all were Vietnamese.
I recalled that "JanFrederick" had mentioned the Bun Bo Hue in the comments on my original post on Pho Ban Mai. I'd really never had the chance to try it. So, I decided to finally order it ($8).
In terms of Pho Shop BBH, this was ok. Basically, doctored up pho broth. It had some sneaky spice and the noodles were firm and slippery, but it really lacked the deep lemongrass-funky flavor of a great bowl of BBH. Not a fan of the beef which crumbled into little pieces when I tried to pick it up with chopsticks.
The herbs and greens were on the sparse side, but very fresh. I might try this again one day, but not for a while.
Returning to work and more lunch time meetings, I returned to Duyen Mai. This time I wore appropriately dark clothes. It was also about time I try the Nem Nuong Cuon.
Yep, these were the same "Brodard light" rolls as I'd had at Ban Mai. On the good side, not too tightly wrapped, fresh, herbs, and scallion. On the other hand; I find the dipping sauce to be rather bland and am not fond of the texture of it and on this visit, the fried egg roll wrapper was on the burnt side and gave off a bitter flavor.
I also ordered the Pho Filet ($10)....but due to mental vapor lock, forgot to ask them to put the meat on the side.
So of course the beef was overdone by the time it got to my table. In spite of that; the beef was very tender and had no off flavors. The clump of noodles at the bottom of the bowl was decent, not overcooked. The broth was interesting; perhaps a bit too defatted and quite dark. The flavor was onion forward, almost no beefiness, light anise, but at least it didn't have too much MSG. In spite of the rather over-powering sweetness of the broth, I think I prefer Char House.
Like all previous meals; while light on the quantity, the sprouts and basil were very fresh. I probably should drop by and try their house pho one of these days.
One tip....right now, all the spring rolls are a buck a piece. I don't see it mentioned anywhere. Even though the typical order is 3; they'll ask you how many you want and just charge you $1 each!
Finally, this past weekend, one last weekend visit. Again, all the customers seemed to be VN.
I ordered the Goi Cuon Bi - the spring rolls with shredded pork and pork skin.
This was pretty good; it was wrapped a bit too tight, but the "bi" wasn't too dry and actually had rice powder on it. Loved the herbs; the mint really brought the flavor of this up. The nuoc mam cham on this visit was quite good and not watered down.
Not feeling like soup or anything heavy; I ordered the Goi Ngo Sen ($10.99); the Shrimp and Pork Lotus Stem Salad.
I haven't had this in ages. Apparently this version has jellyfish in it....I saw but a few thin strands. This was mostly julienned carrots and cucumbers, with a generous dose of bean sprouts. There were quite a bit of shrimp; which had been sliced in half lengthwise. Not much pork and a few lotus stem, which were buried away at the bottom of the salad. It was dressed a bit too light for me, so I dumped the remaining sauce from the Goi Cuon Bi on it which helped. At least I ate healthy, right? And those spring rolls were still just a buck a piece.....
I really like the folks here; they smile and are pretty friendly. If I bring folks here; I'd probably stick with the spring rolls and the banh xeo....I'm sure folks would enjoy them. The menu is rather vast; I recall enjoying a couple of other dishes at Ban Mai, so I'll probably try them here in the future. Hmmmm.....I need to return to Ban Mai as well......
You might as well check them out while they're still a dollar a piece. I have a feeling that when that Grand Opening sign comes down; the prices will go up!
Pho Duyen Mai 5375 Kearny Villa Rd San Diego, CA 92123 Open Daily 9am - 9pm
A couple more "Honey Doo" weekend breakfast revisits.
Tim Ky Noodle:
Actually, I hadn't planned on checking out Tim Ky. I'd been craving the Banh Mi Bo Kho from Pho Lucky and since 99 Ranch Market was out of the brand of Shaoxing I prefer, I headed up the 15 to Lucky Seafood. The plan was to get the bo kho from Lucky, then buy what I needed next door. Unfortunately, I was met with the "unlucky" sign to my right. Hmmm......hope they truly are just "remodeling". So I walked on over to Tim Ky and got the Won Ton and Dumpling Egg Noodle Soup. First off, the guy working here seems to have kind of burned out and has entered the "just give me your order phase".....which was fine....maybe he's not a morning person.
While the noodles were spot on perfect; everything else was back to how it was on a previous visit. Man, that soup was bland, the dumplings and won tons tough....if you're keeping score; there's now a total of five, down from six on previous visits.
Maybe this soup isn't a "morning kind of broth"?
At least I got my Shaoxing....which kept this from being a totally "un-Lucky" morning.
Tim Ky Noodle 9330 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
I was driving around on errands rather late this past long weekend. I was kind of hungry and noticed that Que Huong was open. Man, it had been over a year since I last visited. I walked toward the door and Jay came up and opened it for me! I guess the place opens at 10am on weekends. I didn't know that!
The other thing I didn't know was that they served a whole bunch of different noodle soups these days.
I ordered the Canh Bun. Jay told me they were out of fried tofu and I told him to not include the pork blood. I was surprised at what I got for $6.95.
Man, look at all that ong choi....which was fresh and crisp. Qutie a bit of the pork/crab floating around as well. Maybe they gave me a lot more since they didn't have any fried tofu? The noodles were nicely done, firm and slippery. What surprised me the most was the broth.....it wasn't overly MSG heavy, with a pleasant mild flavor. I do think it could have been a bit richer but the mam tom (fermented shrimp paste) really went well with this; adding a nice complex savory flavor to the broth.
I mentioned the quiet unsalty flavor of the broth to Jay who told me that they had really cut back on the MSG and salt these days......which makes it quite the opposite from how things have trended here in San Diego over the last few years. Jay told me that he has become a bit sensitive to MSG which lead to this change....interesting.
It's been way to long between visits. Maybe I need to drop by and try the Bun Mam here. Though I might pass on the pho..... Jay also told me that he's adding a whole range of "salad type" dishes and revamping the menu a bit. More reason to return I guess.
Que Huong Restaurant 4134 University Ave San Diego, CA 92105