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Pho Minh, Pho Minh, Pho Minh

I'll write more later, but - last week, there was exilekisses' post on Pho Minh:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/536215

After I wrote it up for Chow Digest last week, I started going a little nuts with craving. Had never heard of Pho Minh before, but all the stars seemed to be aligning, and it seemed exactly like the object of my years of fruitless searching - a pure, beef-energetic, unmasked experience of screaming cow. No masking flavors, no over-hits of clove or MSG or sweetness to cover rankness - just pure beef tang. My perfection is Pho Y in San Jose, and none of the 40-or-so beef pho places I've tried - throughout the Gaberhood and Chinatown and throughout Little Saigon - came close. I called my girlfriend - re-arranged my schedule, everything to get out there before the early closing time. But the whole time - I was gripped by the knowing sorrow - that so many times I have ventured forth in search of the One True Pho, and so many times I have ended in over-spiced, beef-deadened sorrow.

But Pho Minh is it.

I have to say it again: Pho Minh IS IT.

Pho Minh is the best pho I've had in southern california.

The #1 and the #2 are completely different broths.

#2 - Pho Dac Biet - is light, clean, lightly minerally, tangy - pho as the morning light. #1 - Dac Biet Pho Bac - is dark, mysterious - pho broth as the deep ocean night. Brown, sweet, possibly still mooing a little at the bottom of the bowl.

Pennywort tea is also super - and very charmingly grassy.

Uh, I can't say more. Pho Minh IS THE IT OF ALL ITS.

It is the pure, flying essence of beef tang

Also, I chatted up the owner, and he seemed worried - buried as it is in the back of a strip mall, nobody seems to know about it. The place was empty when I was there. We need to give this place some business and keep it alive, or I will cry a thousand tears, and the tears WILL NOT TASTE ENOUGH LIKE BEEF BROTH.

(Amusingly, he asked where I'd heard of the place. I said, "I read about it on the Internet." He looked at me, puzzled for a moment, then said, "Oh, so a friend told you?" "Yeah," I said. "A friend told me."

)

Thanks, Erik M and exilekiss and others, for this find.

Happy I am.

-thi

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  1. #2 - Pho Dac Biet - is light, clean, lightly minerally, tangy - pho as the morning light. #1 - Dac Biet Pho Bac - is dark, mysterious - pho broth as the deep ocean night. Brown, sweet, possibly still mooing a little at the bottom of the bowl.

    Dude, that guy told me the only thing different was the meat.

    22 Replies
    1. re: ns1

      That could most certainly be. Add-ins do a lot - I mean, that's the soul of pho, right? Light and clean enough that a few shreds of fresh herb, you can taste throughout the whole dish. My sister, f'ristance, prefers the tai - pure thin lean raw beef slices - and no other add-ins, at the aforementioned pho y because it brings out the cleaner flavors of the broth. It's actually a lot like, say, a Viet porridge place, where the same base broth just gets different meats mixed in a moment before serving - but it changes *everything*. Like at some of the places, you'll get some raw yellowtail slices put on top, that you mix in, and then suddenly the whole broth tastes like yellowtail, delicately. The intensity of the change may reflect the lightness of the broth.

      Anyway, I'll ask - but I'm sure from my tasting, that the #1 and #2 are a completely different experience. If it's just the meat - then that's an awesome piece of data. Hmmm... it's like meat as condiment, meat as broth flavorent. It means that the filet is bringing a mighty strong dose of cooked sweet brown to the broth.

      1. re: Thi N.

        Well I asked him and that's what he said. We ended up ordering the #2 and adding in slices of filet (I like tripe and whatnot).

        As I said in my review, I thought the broth @Pho Thanh Lich was beefier, but I'd be down to give it another shot =D

        1. re: ns1

          I went in yesterday and ordered the Dac Biet Pho Bac (#1) based on Exile's review. A minute later, I heard the owner, Erik, pounding away in the kitchen. I have to respectfully disagree with Exile's description of the broth being "dark, mysterious". I found it light and clean. I thought it was absolutely delicious. I thought the micro-thin sliced ginger added a different touch - I only got a taste of it every 10 bites or so.
          After my meal, I spoke with the owner - Eric - his family helps him (he seemed so young that I assumed it was his family's restaurant and he was helping). I asked him what his favorite was of his offerings and he said that the one I ordered was his fave - in fact, he said when he saw me eating it, he made an order for himself. He said that a lot of people think the broths are different, but, in fact, they are the same. He said that for the #1 he pounds the meat to make it more tender and then pours boiling water over both sides (away from the soup) which in turn cooks the meat a little and gets rid of the blood. This is why the broth is not cloudy or murky as some are. I found this interesting. We also discussed the location and he said that business has been slowing, but that it was good before... so it made me happy that people at least know about the place. I am thinking the economy has something to do with the slow down.
          There was one gentleman eating when I arrived (around 5:30) and no one else came in while I was there. I will definitely be back. One more thing, he does not use MSG and said that some people don't like it as much because of that reason - I told him he should put a sign that says No MSG since I know people who will not eat anywhere that uses it due to their reaction to it. Also, their menu indicates they are open 7 days a week from 8am-6pm. Cash only.
          On a different note, I have been to the Pho place across the street and to the left of Pho Minh (not good). Also, the place that a lot of people mention on this board (cannot remember name - 3 words, but it is on the other side of the street, a few blocks east and has a driveway going to a parking lot to the right of it and a Mexican restaurant on the other side of the driveway) is where I tried to go a couple of years ago, but when I tried to park in the lot behind it, two people from the restaurant came and yelled at me telling me that I was going to the Mexican restaurant, even though I kept saying "no, Pho" over and over. But then when I saw one of the cooks washing dishes with the hose I was glad they would not let me park there. That disgusted me. In driving down Garvey, I realized that I have actually been to several of the pho places on that road, but noticed a few that I have not been to, so I will need to investigate more.
          Thank you for leading me to Pho Minh - it was wonderful!

          1. re: WildSwede

            Well, it got another bump in the LA Times today, so hopefully business will pick up. Pho Hien Khanh (is that the proper name of it?) across the street is absolutely revolting, I wish it would dry up and blow away on the monsoon.

            My Hanh, which is nearby, has just OK pho but absolutely great bun thit nuong.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Is My Hanh on the same side of the street - a stand-alone building? I have been there. Did not think the pho was great, but the men working in there worked really hard at helping me have a great meal - they were very nice to me. Yeah, whatever that place across the street is called, it should be called revolting!! ;-)
              Hope business picks up for Erik!! Thanks Uber!

              1. re: WildSwede

                My Hanh is on the north side of the street, in a two-story minimall, near where El Taco Nazo used to be.

            2. re: WildSwede

              A friend recommended Pho Filet nearby, any comparisons to Minh?

              1. re: WildSwede

                Had lunch at Pho Minh today--read thi's CH review and today's LA Times article, literally dropped everything to go. Got there 12:45, the joint was jumpin'. There were people waiting for a table, the staff couldn't clean tables fast enough, and people kept coming in. Erik and the staff were literally running, faces flushed, looking flustered and happy and dazed as they struggled to keep up. When Erik took my name, I joked that a lot of people must've read the Times this morning. He smiled, a little uncertainly. "I didn't expect this," he said.

                I sat there patiently, waiting for my #! and trying not to swoon from the fragrance coming from the kitchen. It was so clean, so pure a smell. Just like the flavor of my broth. Beautiful. A lot saltier than I expected, but so flavorful. The noodles were wider and softer than I expected, but it worked. The finely julienned ginger was a great touch. I also ordered the pennywort drink, which I've never had but liked a lot. It reminded me of my favorite blend at a juice bar, only lighter.

                I wonder, though, how Erik managed. If he'd prepared for the usual non-crowd and got slammed, did he have to compromise or use shortcuts? Does he keep back-up stock in the freezer? Does he always make way more than he needs? If he compromised, he did so gracefully, and I can't wait to go back when he's not so busy (like breakfast, soon!) to see if the broth is even better.

                1. re: happycat

                  Sorry, Erik. Sorry, Eric. I confused your names!

                  1. re: happycat

                    Glad to hear they got a bump in business. Their Pho is very good but it is a little out of the way and is hard to find. While most Pho joints don't do much marketing, I think they could really do something to set them apart from the parade of Pho shops in the neighborhood. I read the article and the owner sounds like a smart guy. I hope they are able to capitalize on the publicity like when JGold first reviewed them. I know the folks on Chowhound have been big supporters too.

                    The Pho is very good and the owners sound like good people. I pledge to eat a bowl of Pho or Bun Bo Hue (which my wife says is better than the Pho there) to help support them.

                    How about a banner or something? A guy dressed like a Spring Roll standing on the corner. One of those flippy sign guys who promote condos? They do play great VN country music DVDs on the LCD. Seize the Day!

                    1. re: bsquared2

                      "Their Pho is very good but it is a little out of the way and is hard to find."

                      That makes eating at Pho Minh that much better and at the same time elevates your "houndliness".

                      1. re: mpken

                        Yes, but what enhances the "houndliness" also makes it hard for non-hounds to try. We go out to the SGV almost every weekend to buy groceries at the 99 Ranch Market and while we love Pho Minh, sometimes it is easier to go to Saigon Flavor or somewhere else. Usually when we are in the mood for BBH, we go to Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa. We love the food there and the owners are the nicest people in the world. If they ever closed, I would be very upset because I love the Nem Nuong Spring Rolls so much.

                        I'm all about supporting good VN restaurants since there are many that are discussed that I think are pretty mediocre. I feel bad when people say they've had VN food and they mention a really weak place they have been to.

                        I do realize that some of the places I eat at when I visit VN would never fly in the US. We ate at a BBQ Goat restaurant in Saigon that was delicious but most people would run screaming from. Some friends were disgusted when I mentioned a night of eating snails and drinking beer at a Saigon Beer Hall.

                        But I will go out of the way to go back to Pho Minh because I do feel that they elevate the level of Pho in the SGV.

                        1. re: bsquared2

                          Didn't mean to poke at your "houndliness" bsquared2. You definitely have the chops.

                          Thanks for the tip on Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa. We'll be checking it out soon.

                          1. re: mpken

                            I was just talking about the fact that some places are really a bit out of the way. I really like Pho Minh but if I was recommending a place to a neophyte, I might pick a place that was easier to find. There are other places that are more on the "main drag".

                            It's the same when we go down to OC. There are those places that are a little closer to the other places we go to. For example, we often eat Bun Bo Hue at Quan Hy because we also like the Rice Cakes and they are close to the "King of Beef Jerky". Sounds silly, but there is something to be said for convenience.

                      2. re: bsquared2

                        "I pledge to eat a bowl of Pho or Bun Bo Hue (which my wife says is better than the Pho there)..."

                        Okay, that does it! I am not a connoisseur of either dish, just like them a lot, but the few examples of bun bo hue I've had curled my toes and stuck a lingering goofy grin on my face. Just too damn bad they close in the middle of the day...

                      3. re: happycat

                        It's great to hear the pickup in business - this is definitely one of the restaurants we can't let fail.

                        Long live the #1!

                      4. re: WildSwede

                        this place sounds familiar, is it the same joint that was struggling for business and the la times did a non-food article on it????

                        1. re: WildSwede

                          Hi WildSwede,

                          I'm so glad you liked Pho Minh. It's my favorite Pho place in town. :) But to clarify... when did I ever say the broth was "Dark and mysterious"? I don't recall ever saying that. I'm one of the supporters. :)

                          1. re: exilekiss

                            "dark and mysterious" is actually a Thi. N line

                            My god, you know you've been on chowhound too long when you can recognize quotes from prolific posters.

                            1. re: ns1

                              Oh, that's funny. When I saw the post THIS TIME (none of the other times did it register) I had a thought that it was actually Thi who said it (I actually re-read his whole post again to confirm and was going to apologize to Exile! I think I am losing my mind! I apologize Exile!! Okay, I respecfully disagree with Thi!! Thanks for catching that!! ;-)
                              Also, I don't think describing something as "dark and mysterious" is necessarily bad, I just didn't find my #1 that way at all!!

                    2. re: ns1

                      ^ hahaha! that's hilarious...

                      Been eating Pho Minh since first week of opening but... I also fear for Minh's owner. Kim V just opened on August 9 across the street and that place is already hustlin'/buslin'

                      Like they always say, location, location, location.

                      Aside: the tofu place in the same complex as Minh produces some foul dou hua. Just pass go.

                      1. re: TonyC

                        thanks for the heads up, my and the wifey were thinking about dropping by and picking up some tofu

                    3. yo thi!

                      what's up man! you know, i tried pho minh a while back on exile and erik's rec, and it didn't really do it for me. too light for someone with MSG running through his veins lol, but if ya likes it, ya likes it.

                      my point in all this is that i've been going almost directly across the street to a place called PHO FILET. the pho bac there, in contrast, totally rocks. only pho i've ever had that doesn't immediately make me want to put sriracha or any of the other table sauces into it.

                      to each his own, but i say check out pho filet, if just for comparison, next time you're in the area!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: rameniac

                        Mmm... the emotional distance between your (and my) beloved kyushu-style ramen, and pure Pure Pho Style as practiced by Pho Minh, is approximately the distance between gumbo and sashimi.

                        Not to say there's anything wrong with kyushu style or gumbo - they both flare mightily in my heart. But it requires.... almost a different attitude. Quieting the mind, paying weird, close attention. Also sort of like the difference between enjoying a pinot noir and enjoying a fresh white tea.

                        It's easier to like pho minh-style for breakfast, too.

                        1. re: rameniac

                          rameniac -- did you ever find them fishballs?

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            thanks ipse! i did! i found them at 99 ranch actually, in the freezers with the doors (near the live seafood tanks, at the opposite end from the open air freezers with the majority of the cheap brand balls in em)... haven't tried them yet but i will soon =)

                        2. Hi Thi N.,

                          Nice! (^_^) Glad you ended up enjoying this place, and great write-up!

                          1. man I don't know what's going on, but the chow gods conspired against us yesterday.

                            First we went to Pho Hien. This was about 8p on a tuesday night, CLOSED.
                            Drive down the street to Pho Minh. CLOSED.
                            Up the street some more to Pho Filet. CLOSED.

                            Ended up going to Pho Patseur. What a tragic, tragic mistake that was.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: ns1

                              Pho Minh, painfully, is only open until 7 PM. But they're open early.

                              1. re: Thi N.

                                wow, consider my mind blown.

                                Guess it'll only be a weekend affair then. I agree though, it would be a great bowl to have in the morning ;)

                              2. re: ns1

                                i ran into the same issue one tuesday last month! filet closes on tuesday, their default "let's pick a random day of the week and shut down" day. same with minh i believe (and i was there earlier than 7, i think). hien mai was shuttered and hien was open but i had no intention of going there. i forgot what i ate that afternoon. i think, nothing. lol.

                                note to self: forget pho on tuesdays altogether.

                              3. I don't suppose you're related to C. Thi Nguyen, who wrote the following article in the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/los...

                                2 Replies
                                  1. re: raytamsgv

                                    That is, indeed, me. The find of Pho Minh came just in time to slide in as a last-minute re-edit, replacing a much lesser pho joint. Which makes me happy, because I'm alarmed that Pho Minh seems to be: 1. the best pho place in all of San Gabriel, and perhaps SoCal, and 2. the least crowded pho places in all of San Gabriel. Scary.

                                    As a side note, if you ever have out of town weekend visitors who lack for bizarre entertainment, inform that that you have a Monday deadline and take them on a whirlwind tour of something like eleven soy-milk places in a single weekend until they collapse, weeping, and beg for mercy.