‘Tis the season after all for the cold and the warm, and by that I meant the weather and the soup. Recognizing the many Pho places in Los Angeles that are popping up, maybe it’s time to crawl towards the comfort it brings. Although, there are many better bowls out there, I can only go to so many and therefore may have to pick and choose considering proximity and necessity. Let’s explore the hole-in-the-wall, the chain, the upscale, the popular, and find out which one we love best. (For the sake of comparison, I am willing to sacrifice myself and eat combination Pho at each location. )
Walk along the Western Ave and you’ll find many Pho places. This one was introduced to me by an aunt a long time ago. It was my first Pho experience in Los Angeles some *ehem years ago. Therefore a revisit to this place is a must. It’s nothing fancy, mismatched chairs you’ll find at any second hand store, tables covered in their menu with plexi glass on top which definitely saves on reprints, and a small counter. Don’t get me wrong, they do have several of them everywhere in the Koreatown area, but nothing spells authenticity than the confusing and clearly “un-thought” (if that is even a word) of decor and the very humble style. Their service is fast but not the best of the four: NOT A SMILE IN SIGHT. Oh well! The Pho is not as good as I remember, there was a time when I thought it was the most comforting thing I have ever put inside my stomach. The noodles were mushy and glued together (if that makes sense in your imagination) and the meatballs had a very weird aftertaste that was reminiscent of (spoilage). The squid and tendons were cooked well, surprisingly. The broth was on the blander side and so a dash (or aplenty) of sriracha will help the bowl a lot. In these parts onions are served in and out of the bowl, on the side with plenty of hoisin and sriracha and the winter nights were becoming much much better. Maybe the chef was on Holiday vacation. But with the disappointments in the meal, we had to move-on. And so…moving on.
A new 24hour location just opened up in Glendale, thus aiding towards the need for something open late at night after going around Glendale getting slightly “almost sober”. No further explanation needed. The service was fine, I suppose. You order at the counter and the food comes in less than 5min when there are not many customers around. Oddly enough, it was winter and there were not many customers around. We do need some help with tougher cuts of meat. With just chopsticks and a spoon, it was hard for me to cut and gnaw at the huge pieces of meat, it was short of bringing out the cannibal and primal in me. But the meatballs and noodles here were a sure improvement. The broth was “fine” (for a lack of better word than boring). I still needed a little bit of help with my condiment friends but without would have been just as “fine”. The place and decor stepped it up a little bit, coming from one chain to another. But even during the cold winter nights, it was lacking in activity (during dinner???). Maybe that was a sign to move on. And so moving on once more.
Lemongrass Vietnamese Restaurant
Watch out for this one when you crave for Pho. It can get packed and tables always get full come dinner time and parking is close to non-existent (NOTE: 2 spots in front). Not really my favorite but really close to being my go-to. The broth is actually better than the first two and the rice noodles have this delicious bite to it, not too hard and not too soft. The meat and cuts were at par, perfect bite-size pieces and tender enough. The decor was much nicer than the first two, and by far slightly more upscale (and they even offer alcoholic drinks). If you are a Pho connoisseur then do not come here. If you’re doing a Pho crawl (just like I was) then definitely try this place. But for $8 a bowl, I was expecting a golden delicious broth that will blow the rest of its competitors out of the water. Damn the good service for tipping the scale towards their advantage. Nevertheless, it was really necessary to seek perfection elsewhere. Let’s move on.
I say upscale for several reasons: the location is much better than some of it’s predecessors, the decor and styling is definitely an upgraded version of the other Pho places I’ve ventured in, and the prices are UP UP UP(scale) compared with what a bowl of Pho is usually valued as. But for the record, this is ranked as high UP there versus the other three. The broth is slightly on the sweeter side but at least had enough flavor for the sake of recognition. The meats were plenty and cooked well that no tutorial on utensil usage was necessary. Was it worth the $8.50? I would say it was not quite, but will suffice. They had ample parking in the back, service was fast and efficient, it was not crowded, and the food was bordering slap-me-silly delicious (interpret/imagine however way you want).
Lesson for the winter: Pho is as individual as we all are. Just because it is as seemingly simple as broth, noodles, and meat does not mean they will all comfort you the same way. Depending on your need for the moment, may it be location, occasion, budget, etc, there will always be a bowl that can satisfy your craving for warmth amidst the cold. Don’t just take my word for it, you will have to crawl on your own.
*FYI: I did not have pictures of Golden Deli as it has been a long time since I’ve been (note: pre-blog). I did not have the means to revisit for the purpose of this post. But it is by far still my favorite bowl compared with all that I have tried so far (written about or not). But if you have your own suggestions, please let me know. I’d love to find that best slurp of Pho I want to keep dreaming about and devour even in the middle of a heat wave.