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Review: Pho Avina - Glendale

Back in 2000, I visited a friend of mine in San Francisco. Well, Oakland, but close enough. As part of the 50 cent tour, we decided to go see the redwoods in Muir Woods north of the Golden Gate Bridge. On our way through Oakland's Chinatown, my friend stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant and grabbed us some sandwiches. This was my first time trying banh mi, but I was hooked. I've been looking for a good place to get them here in Phoenix. When I first moved here, I used to go to Avina's Restaurant at 43rd Ave and Bell. The problem is, for some odd reason, they only had banh mi on Wednesdays. There were other things on the menu that I liked, so I'd go back for lunch. The owner took a vacation to Vietnam, and after they came back, they started using frozen vegetables and that pretty much killed it for me. My girlfriend went there with one of her friends and she ordered something different that scared her, and after that, she wouldn't go back. I found some other places that I liked better and Avina's faded from my rotation.
A couple months back, I decided to try them again. I didn't recognize anyone working there, which struck me as odd, since it was usually Avina and her grandmother. Afterwards, I found that they'd sold that location (despite the sign out front still saying Avina's to this day) and moved into the old Pho Pat location at 49th Ave and Thunderbird.
Today I was in the mood for either banh mi or maybe Thai. Since Chanpen is just down the road from Pho Avina, I decided to decide on my way. Pho Avina was closer, so I went there. The new place is worlds above the old location. Nice dark wood tables and newly done walls. I got there around 1pm and there was only one person eating. There are maybe 12 or so tables. I walked up to the counter as everyone was in the back and waited. Much to my joy, they now apparently specialize in serving banh mi at lunch. They had a huge poster behind the counter with the various sandwiches and pictures. They ONLY serve them M-F, 11am-3pm. Avina came out of the kitchen, so I knew it was the right place. I sat at a table and perused the menu. They have a very extensive menu of Vietnamese food, but I wanted banh mi. I decided to get the grilled pork one ($3.50), along with an order of spring rolls ($3.00) and an order of egg rolls ($2.00). I stuck with water for a drink.
The spring rolls came out in a few minutes. They were freshly rolled, with lots of shrimp and pork. They came with a homemade peanut sauce. They were very good. I finished them and tried to ignore what appeared to be a Vietnamese version of American Idol by installing BlackBerry Maps on my Blackberry.
After 10 or 15 minutes, my sandwich arrived. I thought this odd, since they usually bring out the egg rolls right after the spring rolls. I figured they forgot them. It happens. The sandwich was great. It was a good-sized crusty French bread roll, with lots of pork, a mayonaisey sauce, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, cilantro sprigs, and three slices of jalapeno on top. If you haven't had banh mi, you need to track down a place that makes them well and try one. So many different flavors and textures. For $3.50, you can't go wrong.
After scarfing down the sandwich, I waited a few more minutes. Two other people were eating, so the kitchen wasn't too busy. I gave up on the egg rolls, and went to pay. The older lady who owns it said that my rolls were on the way and said something about the fryer. I paid and my rolls came right out. They were good, but I prefer more meat in mine. But for $2.00 a pair, they are still a good deal. I love the ones at Noodles Ranch, but they are also $5.00 for three. For a cheap lunch, I made out well. With tax, it came to $9.18. I liked the sandwich much better than the ones at Da Vang. Other than the pacing, it was a great meal.

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  1. better than davangs? mr firenza those are fighting words!!!

    nice review, i'll add that to my list of must try's!!!

    4 Replies
    1. re: winedubar

      I figured that would get your attention. But yes, they seem to contain more sandwichy goodness than Da Vang.

      1. re: Firenza00

        sure did!! seriously tho - i could be persuaded for lunch there. its not appallingly far i guess :P

        1. re: winedubar

          I think it took me 15 min or so to get there from the Amex compound via I17 and then down T-bird. It's worth the drive to prove me wrong, right? :)

          1. re: Firenza00

            it'll take me prolly 15 mins from work but np - you challenged da vangs so i'll take one for the team :D

    2. I was stoked to see that there's a good viet place in Glendale. Those hours, however, stink. So it's unlikely that I'll ever get to actually try it. Guess I'm left with tasting vicariously. Thanks for the delicious review.

      3 Replies
      1. re: grrlscout

        They are open 11am to 9pm M-Thurs, and 11am-9:30pm F-Sat, closed Sunday. The hours I listed are the only time they serve Banh Mi. Sorry for the confusion.


        1. re: grrlscout

          I believe it's actually open and serving food other than the banh mi during lunch and early evening. We haven't tried it yet since it changed, but when I passed on my way home from work the other afternoon I saw the "open" sign and the lights were on inside.

          1. re: kittyfood

            D'oh! Hard to believe I ever passed the SAT with those reading skills. I've been hunting for a place not too far from home that serves banh mi; so I'm all the more excited. I grew so desperate, I even tried to make them myself a couple days ago. The results were good, but it also stoked the desire to try a real one.

        2. Thanks for the post, Firenza. Since Saigon burned down out by me I've been looking for another pho place. Saigon had the best banh xeo I've ever found, I miss it so. Do you remember anything about their regular menu, was it very short, or did it have actual entrees on it? I ask because while pho and banh mi are divine, I'm hoping to find a place that serves other dishes, as well.

          edited -- never mind, I see you posted a link to their website, and their menu does look promising! Thanks again.

          1 Reply
          1. re: themis

            The menu is very extensive. I got a take-out one, and it's three and a half 8x11 pages, with two columns/page. There are roughly 147 items in all categories. They have the menu on the rather sparse web site I posted a few entries up from this one. I only tried the rolls and banh mi, so I'm not sure what the status of the other items are. They used to be really good before they started using the frozen veggies at the old location. I'm planning on trying other items if I can get over my banh mi lustings. :)

          2. We ate there on Friday evening. The predecessor place, Pho Pat, had a chicken curry dish that my husband loved, so he was happy to see it on the menu again. When he got it he said it had the same basic taste as the other one, but was much more diluted with coconut milk, and therefore he didn't like it as much, although he said that the broth was good just as a soup, rather than served over rice. I had bun (cold rice noodles) with pork, and liked it -- good flavor, lots of herbs and greens. We shared an order of spring rolls with Chinese sausage, and those were a disappointment. We could not taste the Chinese sausage at all (two very thin slices inside) and they were poorly wrapped and fell apart. I also did not care for the iced coffee with milk, which came out of a machine pre-mixed, and was sweeter and thicker than when it's manually mixed from the little cup of espresso and poured over ice.

            So ours is a mixed review. We will probably try it again, because it's close to home and the menu is large. I haven't tried the pho yet, which is my usual standard in a Vietnamese place.

            1. They have a "Roll Your Own" Menu, which is something I have been eagerly looking for in the Valley for a while (check my other post). So, I will definitely try them for that.

              Thanks for pointing this place out. I am excited to have maybe found my long-lost roll your own spring rolls.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Booger

                Replying to my own post...

                Finally checked this place out (but didn't try their roll-your-own menu).

                I was very disappointed, quite frankly. Had the rice noodle, chicken and egg roll bowl. The chicken and egg roll were very burnt, the chicken was grisly, and the egg roll, besides from being burnt, tasted like it had been fried in old oil.

                Quite frankly, the meal was inedible.

                I am hesitant to pan this place, since the staff seemed so genuinely nice and friendly. I wish them success, since it is hard to run a small restaurant, and they really seemed to care. They need to get their kitchen in order.

                I love that they offer bubble tea. I didn't have one during this visit, but it is nice to know that they are offered (and looked to be selling quite well).

                However, I found the food very dissappointing.

              2. Well, I finally made it to Pho Avina, and Firenza, I really have to thank you for the recommendation. This place is a gem! It was exactly where the map said it was, but the sign out front says 'Pho Pat,' which was confusing, we worried that the place had changed owners. We stopped to eat anyway, and once we were inside, we could see we were in the right place. Avina was greeting everyone and taking orders; hilariously, Vietnamese Idol is still playing non-stop on the TV's in there. It does good business, college students, families, and after-work people were cycling through as we ate.

                We ordered cha gio to start and we lucked out, it came before the entrees. I find that in more authentic Vietnamese places, food just comes out in the order that it's ready, it does no good to hope for things in a particular order.

                I ordered the banh xeo, as that's my benchmark dish for Vietnamese. It wasn't quite as savory as Saigon's; the crepe was thinner put perfectly crispy, and stuffed with thinly sliced shrimp, beef, sprouts, and onions. On the side were pickled daikon and carrots, dipping sauce, holy basil, cilantro, mint, and lettuce for wrapping. If there's a graceful way to eat this, I don't really know it. I almost always wind up a bit sticky and wishing for a wet-nap, but the bright fresh flavors and crunchy-crispy combination make this one of my favorite dishes. Almost to the point I'm sorry if I order pho, because it's never as good as banh xeo. Unless I'm hungover; then I want the pho.

                My guy got the deluxe bun chia gao, the rice noodle vermicelli salad with everything -- beef, chicken, shrimp, chopped egg roll, and chopped sweet potato cake. His took some doctoring with hoisin and sriracha to further enhance the savory flavor, and it looked pretty good. My beef, if I'd ordered it, is I'd want more of everything but the noodles. Don't skimp the sweet potato cake, people!

                Oddly, there was no fish sauce on the tables. You can ask for it, but they don't cook with it, for the vegan/vegehoovian crowd.

                He had a limeade and I had some hot jasmine tea, and I think we got out of there with two cases of happy tummy for under $30. Anyway, I pretty much wanted to post to let people know there's so much more than pho there, the menu is comprehensive and great for the health-conscious and the gluten-intolerant. Riceflour crepes and rice noodles are all you can get here; and all the dishes (except the shortribs, obviously) can be made with tofu, and their crispy tofu looked really good.

                I will definitely be back. They have soursop boba! Soursop is my favorite fruit, and it's so hard to find on the mainland.

                Pho Avina
                4920 W Thunderbird Rd, Glendale, AZ 85306

                1 Reply
                1. re: themis

                  Glad you enjoyed it Themis. Avina is one of our favorite Vietnamese places in the West Valley (along w/ Little Saigon and Davang). Everything is pretty good but the banh mi and "Avina's Special Catfish" are exceptional.

                2. Was reading the review of Pho Avina in this week's "New Times" and casually mentioned it aloud to my vegetarian boyfriend, because the review pointed out that they have a large number of veg. options (fairly unusual for Vietnamese restaurants). "Is that what you want for dinner?" he asked. "Well, I was just reading it, but...I dunno, if you want...it's kind of a drive...." (we live in Central Phx).

                  I guess he was feeling up for an outing, so off we went! I'd forgotten to note the actual address; luckily my vague memory of "across from ASU West" was enough. We started with the tofu spring rolls (fresh, cold, tasty...well, for tofu ones) and the fried sweet potato cake w/ pineapple sauce. I'd never had sweet potato cake before and quite liked it. But then it's hard to go wrong with fried! Hot, crispy, satisfying.

                  We also ordered boba -- soursop for me (on the strength of Themis's mention) and durian for him. We've both been curious about durian for a while but had never tried it. When he ordered it the waitress tried to talk him out of it. "Have you ever tried durian before?" "No." "Are you sure you want to?" "Yes." "We use fresh. It's very strong. Are you SURE??" This went on a little while but finally he was able to convince her yes, he really did want to try it! And after all that, the drink itself was kind of anti-climactic. No trace of the fabled stink. The flavor was unusual but not unpleasant (I can see how it's not for everyone, tho'). I had to wonder if the kitchen was stinky afterward...? She was surprised when he told her he actually liked it, but pleased too.

                  For entrees he had the curried tofu and I had the "bun" (vermicelli w/ veg) with grilled pork and eggroll (which is pretty standard for me when we have Vietnamese). Mine was good -- pork & eggroll both tasty, veg. fresh, noodles good. I had a couple of bites of his and it was very delicious -- coconutty and not TOO spicy, just a warmth that I imagine would slowly build as you eat.

                  We were too full for dessert; besides the boba are kind of dessert-y. Overall we were very pleased with the experience and I left wishing that Pho Avina (or somewhere like it) was MUCH closer to home (have tried Da Vang and my "bun" was only ok and the place is just so DIRTY. I typically don't mind dives but ewwww. Tried another place on Camelback...um...can't remember the name of it but it was just so-so too). There's been a small explosion of Thai places in CenPho lately (anyone tried Thai Basil at Park Central yet?); I wish there'd be one of Vietnamese. Luckily for me, work occasionally takes me to that side of town so hopefully one day soon I'll treat myself to sweet potato cake, banh mi and boba for lunch. Yum!

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: Bax

                    Pho Bang might be the one on Camelback you tried. I haven't been back in three years, but it was even dirtier than Da Vang used to be. Da Vang has repainted recently and isn't quite as divey. There's a surprising lack of Vietnamese around where we live (Cave Creek/UH) so anyplace is a drive for me. Tara doesn't really like Vietnamese, so she doesn't care. :) I love good spring rolls, though, so I usually go for Vietnamese on weekends when she's busy.

                    1. re: Firenza00

                      I ate at Da Vang for the first time last night and the place is pretty dirty... Sorry if that is a remodel I am literally scared.

                      I also don't know the last time I ate Vietnamese food and found it pretty bland and boring. Not sure what to order?

                      We had one Pho with the beef and meatball and another Pho with shrimp and seafood.

                      The pork sandwich for $2 also. We weren't sure how to eat the soup because we ordered it to go they gave us all the sprouts and leafy veggies on the side.

                      I wasn't thrilled and it has such high rating son the board here. What are some tastier dishes to order for next time?

                      1. re: drewb123

                        the sides they are giving you is so that you can flavor and season your pho to your preference. pho to me is sort of like a canvas. you want a good solid broth with the meat of your choice. then you go wild with the jalapenos, sprouts, mint, basil, and all the other spicy stuff on the table - sriacha, chili paste, fish sauce, the whole shebang.

                        personally, i adjust the heat level depending on how im feeling. cold? flu? allergies? set to defcon 4. nothing like nuclear level heat to clear out the sinuses.

                        i love da vangs pork chop with broken rice. excellent and 4.75!!

                        1. re: winedubar

                          i figured so but no fish sauce or chili paste came on the side. I used my own siracha the next day.

                          1. re: drewb123

                            its on the table - theres a whole slew of condiments - 2 kinds of chili paste, fish sauce, plum sauce, soy, etc....it should be next to the big soup spoons etc

                            1. re: winedubar

                              I think drewb mentioned he got take-out.

                              1. re: Firenza00

                                by the way jsut for future reference I am a Female. LOL
                                I did get takeout.

                                1. re: drewb123

                                  Oops. :) I actually think I knew that from other posts you've done, but forgot.

                    2. re: Bax

                      Oh, I doubt they use actual durian fruit for their boba. You can buy bottles of durian extract at Lee Lee's, I bet it's something like that.

                      I tried a sample of durian ice cream at Lee's, across from Lee Lee's (it's confusing; sorry), and I couldn't take it at all. The flavor, if you can call it that, kept building and building in my mouth and permeating my sinuses. My eyes watered, my stomach roiled, and I had to beg my guy to *hurry* and get me something to replace the taste in my mouth. Felt a little woozy afterwards -- epic fail, on the durian front! I guess I'll have to hand in my foodie card.

                      1. re: themis

                        The first and only time I've encountered durian was during college. One of my Vietnamese friends was eating some late at night in the hallway. I was in bed, but smelled a horrible stench. I went out to see what was going on and she was munching on some. Apparently her roommates had kicked her out while she ate them. I couldn't believe someone would actually eat something that rank smelling. Twenty years ago and it still gives me nightmares.

                        1. re: themis

                          Heh. I had a durian "smoothie" at a restaurant here in Berkeley once, just to see what all the fuss was about. I didn't come close to losing consciousness like you did, but I can't say that I enjoyed it either.

                          My assessment: if you like scallion milkshakes, you'll love durian smoothies. ;-)

                          1. re: hohokam

                            Never had a scallion milkshake, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like that either. :)