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
I'd had a really good bowl of Bo Kho from Pho Lucky while doing my errands for the Missus. The following weekend, I had to get something from Zion Market and was hungry. Spotted Cow opens early, it had been a while since my last visit so I thought I'd grab a bowl of the Pho Bo Kho, which was the the best thing I had during my previous visits to Spotted Cow. The drill ended up being kind of strange; I ordered, the gentleman then went to the back of the shop and carried a Styrofoam container to the kitchen area. He set the container down out of sight and about thirty seconds later I heard a "ding"....sure sounded like a microwave to me. Meanwhile, my noodles were heated fresh in front of me, the contents of the container were poured into a bowl and additional broth added. I guess they don't sell enough beef stew?
I thought this was a rather odd bowl of Pho Bo Kho. The broth was barely past lukewarm. In fact this is the first time I can ever remember having a bowl of noodle soup where the noodles were actually hotter than the broth! The broth was very mild, in need of a bit more anise tones and beefiness in my opinion. At least it wasn't too salty. The carrots were nicely done, very tender. Cilantro and onions are quite important to the bowl in my opinion....adding an additional pungency to cut the richness and in the case of the cilantro, that extra anise and almost citrus like tones of cilantro (nope, I don't have olfactory receptor genes OR6A2) really add to the flavor.
As you can see.....I think it's the cost-cutting trend these days, barely any bean sprouts and basil.
The meat was provided in nice squared off chunks. It had probably been cooked separately ahead of time, not a bad thing, then chopped into chunks for serving. It was not bad....though I was looking for some tendon, which I love with my Bo Kho, but none was to be had.
The noodles, the thinner type of Banh Pho, was perfect in texture......there was a huge amount of noodles in the bowl.
But noodles are but one component of Pho Bo Kho. I'm kind of on the fence about this one; the broth was a bit too mild and the temperature was off.....it was kind of made "not to offend", not something I enjoy when having a meal.
Spotted Cow Viet Kitchen (in the Zion Market Food Court) 7655 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
I look forward to those "San Diego chilly" days; you know, what we here consider cold, the low 50's, a nice chill in the air.....and weekends are even better. The Missus sleeping in, I set out, "honey-do" list in hand, and this time decide to make a short detour....to Pho Lucky, for the Banh Mi Bo Kho.
And while I have been disappointed on occasion with the beef stew here, it will hit the spot more often than not. As it did on this day....perhaps not quite as thick as I prefer, but full of tangy, beefy, slightly anise flavors. The tendon with just the right amount of toothsome versus buttery. The bread is standard issue, but is warmed and who cares after you dip....nay, drench it in the "gravy". The onions add a bit of acidic pungency teaming with the cilantro to cut the richness and revive your palate a bit.
Need to cut the salt and richness even more? Add a squeeze of lime. For me, this has become comfort food. The only sad thing is, I still had all my major shopping to do after this......
Pho Lucky 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92126
A new shop coming soon and two new places for hump day......
Banh Mi Bakery and Café:
For some reason, this strip mall on the corner of Clairemont Mesa and Ruffin Road always eludes my attention. But on this past weekend, a sign with "Banh Mi" on it caught my eye, so I drove into the parking lot to check it out.
You can find my post on our visits to Boiling Passion here.
I noticed the sign when driving to pick-up a bento at Nijiya. I noticed that Pho Paradise had closed back in January. Boy did they turn this place around quick. But did they really want to name it "Boiling Passion"?
When I sent off a photo and text to my friends; "John" quickly texted me back asking if this was a massage parlor. I quickly sent off a string of texts about "meat" that isn't really appropriate for this blog.....I'll let your imagination go with that one!
3904 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
Mekong Cuisine Replaces Sang Deuan:
I went up the parking lot to turn around and noticed another change.
I hadn't even noticed this one! Sang Deuan sure didn't last long. Well, another place to try. They kept the "Lao & Thai" portion of the old sign, so I'm thinking the menu is probably similar to Sang Deuan's.
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.
Kirk is on (another) vacation, Ed (from Yuma) is enjoying Yuma and Cathy is writing this post about food for mmm-yoso!!!
The weather in San Diego has been unusual so far this year, from freezing temperatures to heavy, flooding rains, damaging winds and then yesterday, temperatures in the 90's. It's confusing on how to dress-layering a sweater over a long sleeve t-shirt over a short sleeve shirt seems necessary. Then 'what's for lunch' diverges into thoughts of both warming soups to refreshing salads. A recent solution was found at Pho Pasteur, which I've writtenabout,several times. Not much here has changed over the years; still the same glass top over pink tablecloths and consistent food. The mall, however lost its anchor business on August 4 last year and it seems that permitting to rebuild has taken a very long time.
Since I am the 'always chilly' person lately, a bowl of my favorite Mien Ga (bean thread with chicken soup) ($6.99) was the plan for this meal.The add-ins were used for the 'second half' of this bowl, making the flavor profile a bit different, like a new bowl of soup. Both The Mister and I enjoy trying various versions of Banh Xeo ($5.99) and the pancake with its light turmeric flavor and crunchiness with fresh fillings of pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and mung bean was just right when wrapped inside pieces of lettuce and mint and dipped in the bowl of Nuoc Cham (sweet, salty and sour!).Two summers ago, I was in search of the best version of Goi Bo (beef salad) ($10.99) and after much comparison shopping, the final determination is that my favorite version is made at Pho Pasteur Anh Hong. The slices of cooked marinated beef mixed with the thin, thin uniquely sliced (regular and pickled) vegetables, chopped peanuts and basil combine to make this salad so satisfying as a meal.
All in all, a really good hot/cold meal.
Pho Pasteur Ahn Hong 7612 Linda Vista road San Diego 92111 (858) 569-7515
This was pretty good, Better than what I had the last time around. The broth was light, pork-chicken, with just a touch of oil, savory, and not overly salty this time around. The charsiu was on the bland side and the two won tons were on the tough side, the 4 dumplings were also kind of chewy. The egg noodles were quite nice, good chew. Nice and simple, a nice breakfast. This got me wondering if this might be better than the version at Minh Ky.
Tim Ky Noodle 9330 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
So yesterday, before the storm moved in; under the overcast sky, I headed up to Minh Ky.
And while I usually order the Beef Sate Noodle - Dry here; I went with the won ton and dumpling egg noodle soup. Which, while packed with stuff, looked quite light.
The differences were quite striking. The egg noodles here were not quite as yellow as the version at TimKy and also thinner. It was also nice and al dente, the noodles probably went to MK as did the charsiu, the dumplings, and the won tons which were much more tender that I ever recalled having here. Perhaps getting here before the crowds descend (0830) makes a difference?
I think the broth at Tim Ky was slightly better, mainly due to the richness, but overall, I still think Minh Ky is better overall.
Minh Ky Restaurant 4644 El Cajon Boulevard San Diego, CA 92115
It was fun doing a nice simple comparison which started with going to my haircut appointment. My hair didn't fare so well. The guy who's been cutting my hair for ages; I'd followed him all over the place, Mission Valley to Serra Mesa to El Cajon to College to his uncles house (during a bad spell he was pretty much homeless) to Rolando, to Oceanside, then most recently Mira Mesa. Unfortunately, he had just quit the day before....and I needed to get my hair cut, so I had one of the other guys cut it.....so I now have quite the buzz. The Missus gasped when I got back home....but hey, it's hair, it'll grow back. One of the guys at work asked me why I just didn't shave my head.....looking at him (balding), I just said, "hey, I get to prove that I actually have hair...."