“Noodles are not only amusing but delicious …”
So, a friend of mine recently left a cry for help on her FB status:
“Please, sick. Need Phó. Deliver soon. Love you forever.”
And winter has finally descended on San Diego. A warm bowl of soup and noodles sounds good, even to the healthy.
But this is not just any bowl of soup and noodles. This is Phó. People (like my flu-infested friend) obsess over this incredible blend of soup, noodles, veggies and meat.
So. . . basically Top Raman elevated? Is it special because most non-Vietnamese people pronounce it incorrectly, making it exotic, but basically Top Ramen? I mean WTP (Phó)?
I decided to find out. I pass enough of these places to have piqued my interest. Convenient after-workout lunch, exotic. . . Win-win!
Sweet. Phó better or worse, I was in phó the next phó-ive days (yup, I went there).
Day One: Phó Cali
Only Vietnamese people eating here this morning, only Vietnamese people working here. . . Always a good sign, right? They would know their food better than me. Certainly, they can pronounce it better than I can (simply went with, “#34?” since my attempt at pronunciation was meet with a totally confused look from the owner).
Kind of a “do it yourself” when you get it to go. . .I got a separate bag of sprouts, jalapenos, a basil plant and hot sauce to add. Plus, the shrimp, onion and noodles also came in their own carton (maybe so they didn’t get soggy?). Adding them all to the meatballs and broth, I’m going in.
First thing I notice is a sort of cinnamon flavor (maybe all spice?). . .so good. My nose is running and my lips are on fire by the third bite. Feeling absolutely cozy, which today is a bad thing. I’m supposed to tackle house clean out. Instead, I just want to nap. Saving the left-over broth for Ray and the girls.
To those more experienced nay-sayers who would get on my case for getting a “Mission Valley faux-phó,” I say:
That was a delicious start, snots. I have another phó-or days to get into other neighborhoods. And my tummy’s very happy, so I’ll give it phó-or stars out of phó-ive (as I have nothing yet to compare it to).
Day Two: Phó Xpress
I see. It looks like all phó-to-go is do it yourself. OK.
And, no. I did not go into a total immersion area today. But, I figure with the downtown food scene being so competitive in San Diego, I couldn’t really go wrong. This place has also been recently mentioned on Foursquare’s 15 Best Places to Eat Phó, so there you go.
This time, I decided on a combination. But see, this also includes tripe. At least, I think that’s what it is. . .
Er, intestines, right? OK, so not as chewy as I thought they would be, but I still had to close my eyes and try to forget what I was putting in my mouth.
Hmmmmm. . .I also guess I thought I was going to get some seafood. Oh well.
Their beef broth lacks the “all-spice” essence of my last batch, and the meatballs not as tasty. I also may have been swayed by the marked higher English proficiency of the staff (second generation), and the fewer number of Vietnamese seated in there.
Still good (more noodles than Cali and my lips are still on fire), but I didn’t feel as much pride in this bowl as with the other one.
I just may be earning my degree in phó-losophy.
I give this place a two star rating. Not because it was bad, just meh. Nice service, great guys, totally fast. . . but I’m rating the phó-ood.
Day Three: Phó Van
No website for this place, so no perusing the menu. Open at 8am, wow. So, noodles for breakfast, anyone?
Hey, look! I got closer to a “real” place! It’s in City Heights on El Cajon Blvd., just off the 805. Ha! Just look at all the Vietnamese businesses in the area. Ha! That’s right.
Funny thing . . .they do not sell pho here. I looked at the menu, it was nowhere to be found. However, considering myself a sort of pho connoisseur at this point (yup! Fast learner), I looked for the main ingredients: noodles, meat, broth. Authentico? Not sure. But I trusted the five star Google rating system enough to move pho-orward.
“Number 81, please. Small.”
The woman behind the counter still had to look it up in the menu. Then she told me, no, they only had large. Huh.
More for Ray. . .oh soooooo much more.
I mean wow, noodles for days! Shrimp for days! Sprouts for days! A piece of lettuce . . . I’m not sure why it was in the bag.
They also gave me a lemon with pickled peppers for flavoring and plenty of green onions as well. For all this epicness, I needed to use a salad bowl when I got home.
Ray comes in.
“More ‘phow,’ huh?”
“It’s ‘fu,’ honey. Five days.”
Loads of slurping later (I think it was difference of glass noodles this time), once again I was left with a happy belly.
Pho-or stars here. I still miss that all-spice taste from the first day.
Day Four: Saigon On Fifth
LIARS. It is SO NOT on Fifth!
It faces University Avenue. . .I drove around the block three times and resorted to scaring up some tourists in order to finally find it (no, not a homeless vet. A crazed phó-natic). Grrrrr, not a good start.
Parking and locating drama aside, they made me a wonderful bowl of noodle goodness. And yes! I found that lovely cinnamon-y taste again! Not so many onions, but a ton of noodles that made the whole concoction look like I had unearthed a huge wormy den.
The sauces turned the phó into one spicy meatball (actually several, they were extremely generous with the number), so much so that I had to separate into two bowls, leaving the sauces out so that the chickens could have a taste.
The little one hated it. My older one slurped up all the meatballs and broth and looked up at me with her very serious expression.
“Mommy, phó is yummy.”
Mmmmmm, yes it is. Phó-or stars only because it’s a big phó-at liar, but stellar.
But a liar.
Day Five: Phó Fifth Avenue
It’s raining outside, like, pouring. A hot bowl of noodles sounds amazing.
So, I really feel like I know my stuff. I’m going to judge last night’s direct competition, right down the street. ‘Cause I’m all qualified now. Practically an expert, you might say.
Actually, I’m trapped at the kids’ school, having overinvolved myself with holiday shenanigans, with only a small window to grab lunch in-between activities. So I pick the closest place.
Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe I’m starving. All I can say is:
Best. Phó. EVER.
I ordered their “signature” filet mignon, and it was raw when I opened up my carton of mix-ins. The hot broth fixed that, and it was super tender after a couple minutes. The broth itself had that lovely all-spice aroma, and frankly was punch-me-in-the-face-and-do-it-again awesome. That was before I mixed in the brown sauces and Sriracha. Then it became just-kill-me-now ridiculous.
I mean, really. Can’t plan this stuff. Best for last, hands down. Phó-ive stars for Five.
Which is a good thing, because I don’t think I could do this tomorrow.
I am so. Over. Phó. That’s what five days in a row will do to you. Just like my breakfast venture, I have tapped out. Yes, you can have to much of a good thing.
My husband Ray said that recently about me, that I throw myself into things all-or-nothing. I guess something like this would fall into that category. I just think there is a whole lot to learn from follow-thru and consistency, which five days in a row will offer.
That, and some insight:
1) Your bowels enjoy phó as much as you do.
2) Because it is mostly presented, “do-it-yourself,” phó is ready in minutes. You don’t have to wait long.
3) That all-spice flavor is EVERYTHING.
4) You won’t want any more phó after five days straight.
And I won’t. Not for a long while. Which figures, because Lucy is already asking.
(Groaning) “Mooooommy. . .I just want phó. . .”
I mean, finally get it, now. When you get a great bowl, it truly is the best comfort food. I’ll be back phó-or more. . .
Just maybe not five days in a row. But it’s been phó-n.