Category Archives: Vietnamese Food

PHOlling for Pho, Los Angeles

‘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. )

Pho 2000

“The Hole-in-the-Wall”

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. 

PhoCiti

“The Chain”

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 

“The Popular”

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.

Indochine Vien

“The Upscale”

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.

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Filed under Comfort Food, Noodles, Pho, Soup, Uncategorized, Vietnamese Food

Absolutely Phobulous, Los Angeles

Coming from the many twists and turns of X2, Tatsu, and the Riddler (AKA Six Flags), we all decided we needed something to soothe our stomachs. And so we came to a conclusion to go ahead and eat pho. But with the proliferation of many Vietnamese places serving this staple, it might be hard for the wandering tongue to pick and choose a place. Where to? Where to pho?  Someone said Absolutely Phobulous, I thought it was joke. Only until we parked, did I realize it was not. It is called Absolutely Phobulous. So  then by all means I should take the road less traveled and be enticed by a name that says gimmick written all over it.

Small space with very confused decor strewn all over the wall, with busy wait staff that will unfortunately not wait for you. Look long and hard, decide without doubt and swiftly or you will be passed by without any regret. Fact: he passed by many times without regret.

The menu has more items than the usual Vietnamese pho places. With appetizers, salads, vermicelli and even baguettes and dessert. Fresh spring rolls, vegetarian vermicelli (rice noodles served cold), pho beef combo, baguette sandwich, and Thai iced tea for everyone. Done.

The fresh spring rolls come fat (and I do mean about 2in in diameter each). It was filled with huge shrimp and plenty of vermicelli noodles to easily become an entree vs just an appetizer. The carrots, bean sprouts, and cilantro were crisp and fresh. And instead of the peanut sauce, this time it was served with hoisin which lent it a different sweetness, much different from what you’ll get from the shrimp and vegetables.

The vegetarian vermicelli came with both crystal noodles (clear noodles) and vermicelli which for $6.75 is a big, heaping bowl of satisfaction. It comes with mushrooms, tofu, the usual vegetables, and even a vegetarian egg roll. It’s finished with peanuts on top and drizzled with their “house” sauce (which, by guess, was a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, and maybe a little hoisin). It was a delicious combination of ingredients that a lack of protein was never an issue.

The baguette sandwich was just a simpler version of banh mi. Instead of plus the pickled carrots, daikon, and a pate, this one came with spicy chicken, just the cucumbers, fresh carrots (which on the menu said marinated), slices of jalapeno, and the usual cilantro. Although the baguette was a little too hard, scraping the roof of your mouth (that kind of hard), the fillings were actually a good merry mix of fresh, spicy, and flavor. The chicken just had enough amount of spices to still taste like chicken, until that little kick comes in towards the end.

But we must not forget the purpose of this visit. Let us see if this place lives up to its name. The beef combo came with rare steak, beef meatballs, and brisket. It’s served in beef broth with vermicelli, green onions, and bean sprouts, jalapeno, and basil on the side for your mixing pleasure. The meat balls were flavorless, the brisket was hard (AKA tough), and the rare steak was huhum. The beef broth was not as resounding, meaning many of bullion in lesser time (at least that kind of taste). I was hoping for that thick flavor you get from hours and hours of boiling those lovely bones, but was disappointed. Although pho broth is not as dense as some ramen broths but at least give more love into it. A little bit of hoisin and chili sauce helped enhance the taste a little bit or a lot.

Soon we will find that perfect bowl of Vietnamese chicken noodle (not literally). For now I’ll just be satisfied at their attempt at delivering a delicious bowl; whilst failed, it was still able to provide that sigh of comfort when that warm broth started traveling from my mouth to my stomach (and the rest of the menu were not  that bad either). And that is good comfort food in my book.

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Filed under Beef, Bread, Chicken, Comfort Food, Noodles, Pho, Roll (non-bread), Uncategorized, Vegetable, Vietnamese Food

Blue Hen, Eagle Rock

Organic living correlates with healthy living. Supposedly “health is wealth”. Blue Hen prides itself of eating and drinking organic, so try it out if you must for organic food that is hopefully healthy because it will not leave you wealthy after you walk out the door.

This place is Zagat and Citysearch recognized, amongst many others. But with the coming paragraphs, it makes me doubt myself as to what I did a couple of hours before i tread to this Vietnamese place. Was this karma, I asked. Its menu is somewhat authentic and fairly small, but considerably larger than most Vietnamese places. There are additional specials on the wall, next to the many 8.5 X 11 customer artwork.

The imperial rolls ($6.75) were stuffed with chicken (or tofu) and were fried crispy, not too oily as they may tend to. But they were the highlight of the meal. The hand-cut turmeric fries ($4.75) were a mix of soggy and oily russet and Japanese sweet potato, served with diluted fish sauce dip and organic ketchup. The vegetable Vietnamese crepe ($8.95) with tofu was the special of the day. It was filled with fillers; more bean sprouts and carrots, not enough tofu. They all came disassembled on a plate, too much work for something unremarkable. The caramelized ginger and organic chicken and tofu ($9.50) was served with brown (or jasmine) rice and market greens, which at that time happened to be Chinese broccoli. The caramelized ginger was misleading as it did not exist on this dish, maybe it was the “aromatic broth” that tasted more like concentrated fish sauce. It was too salty, failing anything else on the dish to come through. The warm organic banana pudding, although ordinary, was a welcomed taste after the salty onslaught.

Maybe it was my fault to not have their Pho, after all this is a Vietnamese place. But LA does have a lot more really good Pho places and lesser organic Vietnamese restaurants. The better choice might have been to try the soup regardless, but too late now. And their prices question sustainable offerings if one needs to save up for a bruising kidney after. Sad to have such a frowning experience in a promising location. But Blue Hen did make the rest of my day blue.

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Filed under Chicken, Chicken and Rice, Crepe, Dessert, Organic Food, Vietnamese Food