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Aug 17, 2006 06:57 PM

Pho at Santa Cruz Diner

There was a challenge a few months ago to try the Pho at the Santa Cruz Diner. Last night, I actually did it.

I hadn't been to the diner since it was Golden West. I wanted to try the noodles, but I think I'll return for the other food. The diner didn't smell greasy like (the now defunct?) Tiny's.

Needless to say, I won't return for the Pho. My husband and I both got the beef, which was deli sliced roast beef. This totally ruined it for us. They gave you bean sprouts, regular basil, a lemon wedge, sliced jalapenos, rooster sauce and hoisin sauce. The noodles were a little too al dente for my taste, but the broth was actually good. I was surprised that it had as much flavor as it did.

The pho was $5.99. They also have chicken, but who knows how that's served. I wanted to try the spring rolls ($1.49 each), but they had run out when we went around 7:15.

Okay, I took on the challenge. Any others? ;)


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  1. You are my new hero!! Kudos to you for taking on the challenge and giving us the real scoop! I must admit that there have been a few times that I've been hungry late at night and thought about the pho at SC Diner (since they're open 24/7), but once I carry the thought through, I start to feel nauseous and lose my appetite. ;-)

    Roast beef in pho would make me cry, but I'm glad to hear the broth was ok. I don't have any desire to try the pho there, but now I feel the need to reward you and the community w/ a report on the rolls (I think they are the rice paper "summer" rolls, right?). That seems like a doable task, and then I can always wash down w/ a cheeseburger or something.

    Is there anything that you think SC Diner might do well??

    1. Yes!!

      Cheers to Midori for taking that exciting step. I think CarbLover and I pressured like 15 people but no one was up for it. Glad to hear it was at least passable except for the meat. You clearly have the courage of 10 hounds.

      1. I'm curious why it was such a challenge?

        I had pho at the SC Diner when we were up there taking our daughter on the tour of the campus. I can't say I remember much more about it than that it came in a great number of dishes to be assembled by the diner. Everyone else was having a simple breakfast and my food took up half of the table. =o

        We had several breakfasts there that were just fine. I didn't order the pho again because it wasn't remarkable but it wasn't objectionable either.

        4 Replies
        1. re: rainey

          It sort of became a joke and hazing ritual when a new local hound would appear on the CH scene. I considered it a challenge since I was too wimpy to try it myself. I had heard some bad things about their basic diner food, so assumed the pho must be even worse.

          For me, good pho is usually found in specialty shops or at least a Viet restaurant, so I couldn't imagine what SC Diner might dish out. I was mainly worried about the low turnover for the pho since how many people could possibly order it in a day?! Hats off to you and mixmastermidori!

          1. re: Carb Lover

            I'm glad that I got props for taking on the challenge. :) I used to work in an office in Scotts Valley that had a small cafeteria. A couple Vietnamese women ran it for a few months, and they'd always have pho on Fridays. The rest of their food was really greasy and typical, but I always looked forward to Fridays. I was hoping that they were tied to Santa Cruz Diner in some way, but it appears that they aren't. If they're reading this post, please open a kiosk, preferably on the East Side. ;)

            I'm looking forward to the report on the summer rolls!

            1. re: mixmastermidori

              Yes, eastside is preferable; maybe if Charlie Hong Kong goes out of business, although that's not likely w/ the throngs there.

              I see you're holding me to my word on the rolls; will try to go there this week and report back.

              1. re: Carb Lover

                You know Charlie originally opened Oswalds and only decided to open Hong Kong because restuarant biz in SC is not so good unless you have throngs of UC students. I am amazed Oswald's has stuck around as long as it has! Go Charlie!

        2. Ok guys, so I made good on my promise and went to SC Diner last night intent on trying those rice paper rolls. Husband and I got there around 7pm and it was hopping. Families, couples, college friends, etc. All walks of life like you see at the DMV. I actually liked the overall vibe of the place. Menu looked even more promising w/ diner classics at affordable prices. Sorry, no photos.

          We were fascinated w/ the little section labeled "Vietnamese". Even though the diner is open 24/7 and most items are available anytime, they indicate that the Viet items are only offered from 11am-11pm. There's the pho (chicken or beef), the spring rolls (aka summer rolls), and a bun bowl w/ grilled pork (although it's not called "bun"). And the drink side of the menu even has Viet iced coffee for $1.99! There has to be at least one Viet cook back there!

          So we order two spring rolls ($1.49ea), and immediately the waitress says that she has to double check if they have any left since they tend to be out by the time she starts her shift at 5pm. We were tempted by the chicken fried steak, meatloaf, and other stick to your ribs diner grub, but decided on a California burger (w/ avocado, bacon, jack cheese) and a Philly cheese steak sandwich. Comes w/ fries or a salad, so we went the unhealthy route and got fries and paid a little extra to sub in onion rings for the other order. Each was about $7. I also got an Italian soda. Y got the Arnold Palmer since he'd never tried one before, but it was so unpleasantly sour that he asked for a switchover to plain iced tea.

          The waitress returned to our table after taking our order and said that the rolls were out, but then she returned once again and said there was actually one left w/ our name on it. report was not ruined. She quickly returned w/ the roll which was quite big and fat. Sliced in half, it was "exploding" at the ends and didn't look well-wrapped at all. Filled w/ lean, sliced pork loin, lettuce, a little mint, vermicelli threads, and shrimp, it was accompanied by a dark, viscous peanut sauce.

          The pork was flavorless and gray-tasting, and the shrimp was declared by Y as "funky" but not quite spoiled. The wrapper was too moistened, like it had been pre-made and then covered in a damp cloth to keep "fresh". It fell apart very easily. Peanut sauce was not filled w/ enough fresh peanut flavor and had too much soy sauce. In the end, we realized that them only having one left was a blessing in disguise. The summer rolls at Lee's Sandwiches have got to be better...

          The other food was mediocre. Y's burger and fries were def. better than my sandwich, but his beef patty was not very juicy or flavorful. Bun and garnishes were pretty decent though. Meat on my cheese steak was very dry and old tasting, and the swiss cheese was the wrong cheese and had a plasticky, congealed texture. Ick. Roll was all wrong. Couldn't eat most of it and abandoned it there. Onion rings had a hard and heavy coating.

          Well, now we can say that we've done the diner and move on. Again, I applaud you guys for trying that pho!

          1. I know I'm late to the game, but I also responded to the challenge.
            I went to the CS Diner last night with my wife, Cindy, on a whim because I've seen the different feedback and am desperate to find a decent Pho spot on this side of the hill. I ordered a spring roll, just to see what they are like, and we splurged and got an order of cheese fries to split....I know......I's the culinary version of being bi-polar ordering those 2 together. The spring roll was good. Nothing amazing, but it was fresh and had shrimp and chicken inside. The peanut dipping sauce was store bought...nuff said. The cheese fries were awesome. We were unaware the fries also came with 4-5 large pieces of bacon intertwined in the fries and cheese.....I'm from Ohio...we have a saying back there.....anything....and I mean anything is better when covered with bacon.
            Cindy got a French Dip with onion rings. Her order came out about 8 minutes before my Pho did, annoying, and so I had to have a bite of hers. It was decent. Just your standard Sysco (yes, the large food distributor) style pre cooked and pre sliced roast beef, but it was on a nice crunchy piece of french bread and had lots of cheese, so it's was hard to screw up.
            Finally, after much anticipation, the veggie plate came out. I saw several large pieces of Basil, some had large dark spots but they were easily cleaned up, a very healthy pile of bean sprouts and a nice small pile of diced jalapeño. OK, good start. But where the heck is my PHO?
            Ahhhh...there is the waiter now....BIG steaming bowl in hand. He sets it in front of me with little fan fare and I take the chop sticks and gaze into what I hope will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
            Wait....what the I seeing large flat no no.vermicelli.....vermicelli. SIGH...No biggie..I can look past it. They look ok. I'm sure they will taste fine. I start layering in my veggies. First the basil, then the sprouts, throw in some of the jalapeño, a squirt of lime juice and STIR.......dear can't be...They wouldn't...Would they?'s the exact same pre-cooked pre-sliced Sysco Foods roast beef. And to make matters worse all they have is the lame Srichacha sauce, no real chili sauce to be had. I made it half way through the bowl just because I was hungry and prospects were slim to find food elsewhere that night, but suffice to say that this was probably one of the bottom 5 Pho experiences of my life.
            Oh…And Charlie Hong Kong’s Pho, if it can even be called that, is good but nothing like traditional Pho. If you are a purest stay far away.