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Good and Bad Pho in the San Gabriel Valley

I've been on here several times as an observer of so many bulletins on vietnamese food in the San Gabriel Valley. Some i agree with and some I don't. I am a vietnamese food critic for a large vietnamese newspaper. I come from a family of restauranteers and when you sit around a dinner table listening to all my family members talk of the good and bad of what is there to offer in the san gabriel valley, one has no choice but to soak it in and let the rest of the world know.
#1 rule on vietnamese dining ( ask any old vietnamese person and they'll tell you the same thing ) : Always eat in a vietnamese restaurant that is populated with vietnamese diners. If there are a lot of non vietnamese people ( caucasians ), the food is crap. Reason being, hardcore vietnamese people know what vietnamese food should taste like.
#2 rule. Beware of pho restaurants playing chinese music and the waitresses only speak chinese. This is the same thing as koreans opening up sushi restaurants because its profitable. It may be close, but its not authentic . Any vietnamese diner could tell the difference. Because pho is very desired, a lot of asians are jumping on the bandwagon to open one. Pho King closed as quickly as it opened for business a couple of years ago because of this.
- Pho Pasteur is not real pho. It is stocked up with a lot of soup bases from packages and msg. You can tell by looking at the broth that it is nothing but msg. You must look for clear broth because that denotes that the chef took time to let beef bones simmer for hours and hours to flavor the soup.
-Pho Hien ( not Hien-Mai ) is definitely a hole in the wall but is a surviving restaurant because they cook their pho broth overnight. If you just happen to drive by early in the morning, you can see an old lady carrying a huge pot of pho from their vehicle to the restaurant. They may not be #1 in customer service but they do know what they're doing.
-Pho Hien-Mai is the husband of Pho Hien's owner ( they got into an argument and he took off to open up a pho restaurant 2 blocks away ) He wanted to make as much profit as possible by speeding up the process of making pho and using msg. The wife believed in taking her time using natural ingredients like the old country to make her pho. She believed customers will be more loyal this way. ( This is a rumor amongst many vietnamese people in the community ). Hence, his restaurant is not nearly as busy as hers.
-Golden Deli is another restaurant that is definitely worth dining in BUT not for the pho. They're specialty is Bun ( vermicelli ) and any dish that uses fish sauce.
-Pho 79 is also good and their name/recipe is handed down from generation to generation. Their name is very well know because its been here since the beginning of time.
-Pho Nguyen Hoang is too expensive, period and they use too much anise seed in their broth. The aroma is too strong and it is overly used to drown out the msg they don't want you to taste.
-Bakery 101 on Garvey between garfield and atlantic is by far the best quality pho made. They use strips of filet mignon steak instead of rare beef flanks like typical pho restaurants do. This place is sort of hidden and their name doesn't denote that they're a pho restaurant. Their pho is from northern vietnam instead of southern. The noodles are wider as its characteristic.

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  1. I love Pho 79 and eat there when I'm in the area. Always see lots of Vietnamese families and very few whites. Thanks for confirming my choice. I work near Bakery 101 and will try it next!!

    1. Hey luckyapril7,

      The Pho Hien you're talking about is the one on Garvey, like ~5-7 blocks East of Rosemead, right? (If you're heading on Garvey going Eastbound from Rosemead, it's on the left-hand side?)

      2 Replies
      1. re: exilekiss

        i believe she changed the name to pho hien-mai, but it is in that area east of rosemead.

        1. re: exilekiss

          i made a huge mistake because when i drove by pho hien mai, it was the good pho restaurant not the bad one. Pho Hien is the one the husband took and branched off. I got them mixed up. I actually drove by Pho Hien Mai to eat but too packed. You won't find chinese or white folks in there. Only hardcore pho eaters.

        2. Isn't 101 Bakery the place that advertises "NO MSG" on its window?

          1 Reply
          1. Thank you so much for this insider's view! I've been lucky so far -- Pho 79 was the second pho I ever tried, and I've always been happy there. But now I am eager to try Bakery 101! Do you recommend any particular pho there, or do they have a house special bowl?
            I've never tried the pho at Golden Deli (although I love many of their other dishes) so I'm happy to know I haven't been missing a star bowl of pho there.

            4 Replies
            1. re: khh1138

              pho bac ( northern vietnamese pho ) is there specialty, also there most expensive. It is filet mignon pho.

              1. re: luckyapril7

                YUM! Thanks again. That was a really good tip. I'd pay double for such a good bowl. Good fruit smoothies, too.

              2. re: khh1138

                honestly, if you liked pho 79, give golden deli's pho a shot. whether it's authentic or not, it's on par if not better than 79. (by better i mean tastier) lol. both places have good and bad days, but they're both a cut above most of the other pho places in the SGV, and so i find myself bouncing between the two quite a bit.

                1. re: rameniac

                  From you, rameniac, I'll believe it. I would take your word if you told me Ralph's deli was the new best place for noodles. I'll be sure to try Golden Deli's pho next time. :D

              3. Please avoid Pho Super Bowl. I had the worst pho there. Not only the pho's bad, their bun is horrible as well.

                Pho Super Bowl
                1300 E Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801

                3 Replies
                1. re: eileen216

                  Pho Super Bowl is not that bad. It's no Pho 79 but it's not the worse or the best. On a scale of 1-10 it's about a 6.

                  1. re: eileen216

                    Sorry, I would disagree with you. I think their pho is very good.

                    1. re: eileen216

                      I really like the bun at Pho Super Bowl (very fresh and light), and find the pho there to be better than the pho at Golden Deli/Vietnam House. But I'm Taiwanese, so what do I know?

                    2. I'd say avoid Vietnam Delious in Arcadia. The broth was over salty and the woman there forgot to put basil with bean sprouts etc on my to go order.She also only spoke Chinese. Accroding to you luckyapril7 is a bad sign. Now I know why the food suck! lol

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: SeaCook

                        in arcadia , there is a restaurant called ' VIETNAM KITCHEN" which is also horrible and very unauthentic. In the same plaza as baskin robbins and that korean tofu house across the street from burlington coat factory. Took my dad there because it was convenient and on the way to the santa anita mall. My dad walked out there and made a comment about the food and the saltiness of the soup. He was pissed.

                          1. re: raytamsgv

                            Arcadia isn't good for anything but Chinese food. (including Taiwanese)

                      2. thanks for the recs, I love that part about the wife and the husbands argument. :P

                        1. My fav Pho place in San Gabriel is Saigon Flavor on Valley. What do you think of that place?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: poggibonzzi

                            saigon flavor is not known for their pho. Their specialty is hu tieu. Which is pork based soup, not beef.

                            1. re: poggibonzzi

                              Is this the place near Hawaii Supermarket?

                            2. good reviews. might try if im ever out there.

                              1. BAKERY 101 's address is 501 W. Garvey Ave, Monterey Park, CA. I take my mom here every weekend because she refuses to eat at any other " fake pho " restaurants opening up all over the place in the san gabriel valley. Plus its super clean with high vaulted ceilings. I eat the Hu Tieu Bo Kho ( beef stew ) which is to die for there. The meat is so tender is just melts in your mouth.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: luckyapril7

                                  Hey luckyapril7,

                                  Thanks again for your informative posts. :) I tried Bakery 101 last week and enjoyed parts of it, but on that day, their Filet Mignon Pho had a *very* murky broth (not clear like the great broth I had at the original Pho Hien Mai (the good one by the wife)). There was no MSG, though, since I'm pretty sensitive to it and had no reaction. The Filet Mignon was nice, but the broth taste was just so-so, IMHO. Maybe an off-day? I'll give them another try sometime.

                                2. pho 79 is in my rotation, but the last time i went it was pretty bad. broth was murky, noodles were too thin, and the golden brisket wasn't very golden.

                                  pho pasteur wasn't very good at all and i could tell something was not right.

                                  haven't tried pho hien (went to pho hien mai by mistake). mediocre pho but i liked those little rice dishes with the dried shrimp on them (forget what they're called).

                                  i don't know how authentic or inauthentic golden deli's pho is, but i always liked it as it had an element of sweetness to it. the broth used to be pretty clear and crisp as well, although the last couple of times i went it was murky and brown. i think after i tried pho thanh lich (on a good day) in westminster, the bar was raised just a little bit higher for me. btw, golden deli > vietnam house > saigon flavor in my opinion, despite the fact that they're all related.

                                  used to go to pho nguyen hoang as a kid, before i ever went to golden deli. at the time it was good, but i stopped going when the soup started to seem bland and watery. one time the bowls were too overly chlorinated and that kind of put me off the place for good. maybe i should give it another shot.

                                  thanks for the tips... will have to check out bakery 101!

                                  1. luckyapril7. please straighten me out; I'm confused. Your first post said that Pho Hien is the good pho, then in a later post you said the wife changed the name to Pho Hien Mai, which is also the name of the not-so-good pho. Can you set the record straight so I don't drop into the wrong Pho Hien? Thanks. Also an address would be appreciated.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Ogawak

                                      it's gotta be pho hien. pho hien mai was not good at all.

                                    2. Thanks so much for all the helpful info! I love Pho 79 so much! I'm glad that they are rated as OK by you.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: sibaik

                                        Thanks, lucky for the inside info.
                                        Pho 79 is my fave by far. Try their charbroiled pork pho next time - you definitely will not be disappointed. It is my new fave!
                                        I went to one of the Hiens (the tiny one with the Mexican restaurant next door) and got yelled at by the owners. They kept telling me that I wanted Mexican food when I parked my car in their lot behind the restaurant. I tried to explain to them that I was there for the Pho, but they kept arguing with me... no skin off my back, especially after I noticed a woman at their back door washing dishes with a dirty rag and the hose - I had to take a second look to make sure I was really witnessing that!! I posted about my experience. The other Hien, is that in a stand alone building on the south side of the street? I have been there - it was about a 6/10. They were very nice, though.

                                        1. re: WildSwede

                                          Yeah, that charbroiled pork pho is the BEST! I've had a hard time finding that at other pho joints. The broth is really rich too, darker and oiler, with little crispy bits of slightly burnt pork floating in it....so good. I also like their imperial rolls and bo lac lac. They also have a charbroiled pork sandwich which is also tasty (same pork that is in the pho.)

                                          1. re: sibaik

                                            Yeah, the Bahn Mi! I love it (I also really like the Vietnamese ham Bahn Mi). Shoot, now I am craving it! I have not been able to find the charbroiled pork Pho anywhere else. You are correct - the charred bits really add a great flavor to it! Okay, I am going on Sunday morning!! ;-)

                                            1. re: sibaik

                                              Is this the PHO 79 on Valley & New? I used to get this there Then they remodled inside and changed name to PHO 88. Last year they remodled the outside and there is no more sign. So I haven't been back. Please tell me I can still get my pork Goodness!

                                              1. re: Skunk2Racer

                                                No, Pho 79 is on Garfield just south of Main. Sorry! But try it, you may love it!

                                        2. Wow! Thank you so much for the informative post. I will try Pho Hien and Bakery 101. We frequent Golden Deli, and I notice that the restaurant has a mix of patrons-- Vietnamese, Chinese, Latinos, and Whites. What does that indicate if you see such a mix?

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: apfb

                                            that indicates that it's good. =)

                                            1. re: rameniac

                                              i come from the south bay....whenever i am nearby i go to a place called pho87 in downtown chinatown......would appreciate if anybody might comment on how it compares to any of the above places....thanks

                                              1. re: jaymor

                                                Pho 87 has some of the worst Pho I have ever had in my life. Gloppy noodles, bad broth and the meat wasn't very good. It used to be a Pho 79 and was respectable. Hadn't been there for a couple of years and I took my wife (who is Vietnamese). I'm sure she was wondering what I was thinking of by choosing this place.

                                                I had to run out to SGV and take her to Saigon Flavor. When we want the REALLY good stuff, we go to Quan Hop in Little Saigon. The broth there is excellent and the quality of the meat is very good. Of course, after traveling to Vietnam a few times and eating Vietnamese food at home, I am more likely to eat something like Bun Bo Hue or Bun Cha Hanoi rather than Pho anyway.

                                                1. re: bsquared2

                                                  I realize this reply is four (4) years late, but you are wrong. Pho 87 did not used to be a Pho 79. Pho 97 is the place that used to be a Pho 79. Pho 87 is about 1/2 mile North of Pho 97 (formerly Pho 79) on the fringes of Chinatown (whereas Pho 97 is in the heart of Chinatown in a three story shopping center anchored by Wing Hop Fung). While I admit I am a gringo, I know my Pho. Pho 87 is by far the best Pho in Chinatown and is among the best in So Cal. They have great days and good days, but never bad days. Consistency is a slight issue with occasional days when the noodles (which normally have more "bite" to them than most Pho places) sometimes are not as "al dente" as I would like, and other days when the broth is just very good and doesn't have that magical quality that it normally has. But when you hit Pho 87 on a day when the broth is ethereal and the noodles are firm, it is a treat. The quality of their beef in the pho tai is always exceptional.

                                            2. re: apfb

                                              means that it's a good ethic spot that was popularized by yelp/chowhound

                                              I was eating @GoldenDeli and overheard the table next to me talking about reviews on yelp/CH.

                                            3. So have any CHers tried 101 Bakery/Bakery 101?

                                              I'm not a big Yelp fan, but it got a dismal 2 1/2 out of 5 from there.

                                              If I get some good responses today, I might go check it out for dinner tonight.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: andytseng

                                                I've been told that Bakery 101 has closed down. This is too bad since I enjoyed the pho there with no msg.

                                                Is there anywhere else in SGV that serves pho with no msg???

                                                1. re: kure

                                                  Bakery 101 reopened and everything on their menu, even pho bac, is only $4.99. The food is absolutely good. I'm really picky when it comes to Hu tieu Bo Kho ( beef stew noodles ) and they made the best i ever ate. My wife ate the Pho Bac which is normally the most expensive pho anywhere else but it was only 4.99 here. And it was good too. I do pick Bakery 101 over saigon deli overall when it comes to parking, food, service, price, quantity of food, and authenticity. Weird thing is, Bakery 101 isn't well known because its in the middle of nowhere far away from restaurant central San gabriel. Bakery 101 changed their name to Saigon Deli i believe. Its owned by the chain of Saigon sandwiches in san gabriel valley. I was there last week and they had the name Saigon Deli on the wall. Their menu has variety and i've tried bun bo hue ( spicy soup ), hu tieu bo kho ( beef stew noodles ), and pho bac ( northern style pho ). They were all really good and 4.99 .

                                              2. I'm glad I found this post and I have to agree with luckyapril17 and rameniac.
                                                * Golden Deli / Saigon Flavor - I love this place because of the selections that they have. The vermicelli and rice dishes are the best. Although I like the pho here as well. They have the best egg rolls.
                                                * Pho Pasteur - I don't really like this place too much but I have a Vietnamese co-worker who loves the Pho because the price is cheap.
                                                * Pho 79 - Mixed but I will try again.
                                                * Bakery 101 - I will definitely try this place next time I'm in SGV.
                                                * Pho Hien / Pho Hien Mai - I don't remember which one I tried but I think it's the stand alone place. It's not bad.

                                                6 Replies
                                                1. re: candysloft

                                                  pho pasteur is garbage.

                                                  i had to go eat at pho minh 2 days later it was so bad.

                                                  1. re: candysloft

                                                    I agree with you regarding Golden Deli/Saigon Flavor egg rolls. Nobody can touch them in the SGV. Vietnam restaurant is also good. I think it is the son of the GD/SF owners. It's on Las Tunas just west of Del Mar.

                                                    What I really enjoy is their 7 Courses of Beef. Only $13 for two. My wife and I can eat that for a meal. Lots of tasty beefy goodness and the famous 'stinky sauce'. Where else can you have a sitdown dinner for two for less than $20?

                                                    Their Pho is pretty good for SGV. I had the Duck Noodles and they were pretty tasty too.

                                                    1. re: bsquared2


                                                      What is the name of the restaurant with the 7 courses of beef? Thx.

                                                      I've enjoyed the Pho for my two trips to Pho 79, and hated it at Pho Pasteur. ECK!

                                                      1. re: stopurmakingmehungry

                                                        Sorry, it actually is called "Vietnam Restaurant". Not the most imaginative name, but the 7 Courses of Beef is pretty good...and darn cheap!

                                                        I have to throw in my 2 cents. I tried Pho Minh over the weekend and thought it was pretty good. Different than most places, because the Pho broth was a bit lighter. My wife (who is Vietnamese) gave it thumbs up and said the broth tasted like it was cooked for a long time. It had the sweet taste of bones. She had the Bun Bo Hue and said it was pretty good.

                                                        Not much else on the menu and it was in a bit of a stucco nightmare strip mall. I will say that it looked very clean and the people there were very nice. They were also playing some rockin' VN music on the flat screen. Overall, if you are looking for Pho in the SGV, this is a good choice.

                                                        1. re: bsquared2

                                                          It's actually called "Vietnam House", and yes same family as GD/SF. Pho here is pretty good, this is my normal go-to place.

                                                          1. re: DustySlider

                                                            Sorry. Two different places. Vietnam restaurant is the son of the GD/SF family. He broke off to start his own restaurant.

                                                            Ate there this weekend and had the 7 Courses of Beef. The Egg Rolls are similar to GD/SF. The Pho is good, but I go there when I have a 7CoB Jones.

                                                  2. Hi,

                                                    I would just like to reply to this post in regards to Pho Hien and Pho Hien Mai to clear the air. Readers may or may not believe this, but I am the only daughter of the couple who began Pho Hien 17 years ago, when I was 6 years old. And this sounds strange, but I am Hien.

                                                    Yes, the original Pho Hien (which is now Pho Hien Mai), was started by both my parents. And yes, my parents separated in 2003, the year I graduated from H.S, and my father opened the current Pho Hien (the larger and newer venue), two blocks up the street.

                                                    ***HOWEVER, my father is now retired, and no longer owns the business Pho Hien. He actually only owns the property. Therefore, the new owner has no relation to Pho Hien Mai,***

                                                    Customers may or may not have known that Pho Hien Mai was closed for several months this past summer. This was due to the fact that ownership was actually transferred to me. This transfer, along with construction, required us to draft architectural plans, and battle with the city/county for many months for various approvals and permits. At last, we are now in compliance and opened.

                                                    I am not endorsing anyone's Pho nor am I promoting my own. It just hurts me to hear/read all these silly rumors about my parents and their business. I simply wanted to clear the air as far as ownership.

                                                    Thank you.

                                                    1. Great perspectives. Must give Bakery 101 a try.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: justeat

                                                        You should give PHO MINH a try!

                                                        1. re: ns1

                                                          I live in west la, weho-beverly hills border...LOVE Pho...we like Phobolous on La Cienega, but I know it is not the best and the hours are unreliable...can you recommend anywhere in WLA/SM/Hollywood area that is open till 10pm....

                                                          Thanks for your help

                                                      2. This is fantastic post but five years old. It seems a number of the recommendations have closed over the years. I grew up in Chinatown and have eaten at Pho 87 countless times. I would say they have their good and okay days.

                                                        LA is my adopted home town but I've actually been in DC for the past 9 years. Though I visit once or twice year, I'm obviously not as up to speed on the SGV scene nowadays. I've been raving to a work colleague about the pho in LA. Lo and behold, yesterday I was invited at last minute to a meeting in LA next week. I've promised the work colleague to a great Pho lunch. I'm familiar with Pho 79, Golden Deli and Vietnam Restaurant (but not for Pho). I liked the pho at 79 and GD, but not blown away. Any other recommendations for tip top Pho?