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Jul 7, 2009 10:18 AM

Little Saigon Adventure Rd III - Pho Thanh Lich and Bun Bo Hue So 1

So I was just home for the 4th of July from NY and continued my trek to eat at all the great viet places in Little Saigon. I originally planned to hit 3 places this time as my time was somewhat limited b/c I had alot of plans with friends. I ended up only hitting two, but that's because I like Pho Thanh Lich enough to hit it twice (had to take my mom the second time). I forgot my camera in NY, so no pics unfortunately.

So here's what I ate:
Pho Thanh Lich (14500 Brookhurst St): this place is right on the corner of Brookhurst and Hazard, it looks like it was probably some sort of denny's or something before (it looks like that Spire's that is a block away or so). The inside is fairly plain just a bunch of tables with no real decor to speak of although its not the biggest dump I've been to in Little Saigon. The first time I went was on thursday for lunch and it was pretty dead as I got there pretty early like 10:45 and there was only a few other people in there. The second time I went it was jammed packed (sunday after the 4th of July) and I had to wait for like 20 mins to get a table.
- Pho Tai: the first time I went I got the looks like 3rd time was a charm trying to find a very good pho place in Little Saigon (tried Pho 79 and Pho Kim My the last two times). To me the greatest part of pho is a good broth, at Pho Thanh Lich, the broth had that great deep flavor of beef that I was looking for and tasted great with the condiments (scallions, cilantro, bean sprout etc). The broth was also not nearly as greasy / heavy as the broth at Pho 79 nor did have the very strong star anise flavor that Pho 79 had and it wasn't nearly as salty and didn't have too much MSG like Pho Kim My. The beef itself was good quality, tender and tasted great. The noodles were good although no discernable difference from Pho 79 or Pho Kim My. This was really good and Pho Thanh Lich is my new spot for beef pho (unless someone tells me somewhere better).
- Pho Gai Dui: the second time I decided to try their pho ga (chicken pho), they had one with chicken thigh only and that is what I got. The broth was different and obviously tasted much more like chicken (chicken broth), but the soup broth is more yellow and little clearer than the pho tai I had. I liked the broth alot, again it wasn't too salty and had a great chicken flavor to it. The chicken itself was served with skin and bone still attached, which is sort of a pain to eat, but retains better flavor and is more tender that way. They also give you this sauce that is a sort of light chili sauce that you dip the chicken in (its very good). Overall, I liked it alot although I think i'm partial to beef over chicken pho
- Cha Gio (fried spring roll): I ordered these when I came with my mom as a starter. They are different than most cha gio that I've had in that the wrappers instead of being that sorta of bubbly wrapper was a smooth wrapper (think of those chinese take out egg roll wrappers). They were lighter than most cha gio, but other than that and the wrapper the filling was pretty standard. I liked them although I think that I prefer the bubbly wrapper, but i'd definitely order them again.
- Che Thai: they give you this for free at the end of the meal, it was alright, i've definitely had better che, but it was free so what the hell
- Soda Chanh: this was good, I love soda chanh (fizzling lemonade) and their version was pretty good, not too much sugar at the bottom and was generally a refreshing drink

Bun Bo Hue So 1 (15450 Brookhurst St): The restaurant is just another run down viet restaurant in another non-descript strip mall off Brookhurst. I went there at lunch time and it was fairly busy, seems like alot of people taking a lunch break from work.
- Bun Bo Hue: I've never had this dish before. It's a beef noodle soup using white rice noodles that are thicker than pho noodles and the broth is a beef broth that has lemongrass and chilis. It also had slices of beef, pig blood and I believe pig knuckles in it as well. It came with condiments like beat sprouts, lime, cilantro, raw onions and something I had to look up, which turned out to be thinly sliced banana blossoms. The broth itself was much lighter than I was expecting, you could definitely taste the lemon grass and although it was spicy I thought the broth was lacking of a good distinct flavor, was a bit bland to me (not in the sense that it was watery or something, but it just lacked great flavor), I had to put alot of chili oil / paste in it. The beef was ok, a little dry. The other stuff (pig blood, knuckles etc) was sort of whatever as well. Overall, I reminded me of a not as good version of niu rou mian (chinese beef noodle soup), which I much prefer...funny enough I was debating whether I should go here or drive to irvine and get niu rou mian at A&J
- Soda Chanh: their soda chanh had too much sugar and too much ice (i finished it in like 1 min)
Overall, I thought Bun Bo Hue So 1 was disappointing, I'm not sure whether they just don't make great bun bo hue or whether I just don't like the dish that much. Although I am somewhat biased as I immediately made comparison to niu rou mian, which i love (i need to go to taiwan soon)

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  1. You obviously have a much better grasp of the cuisine than we have, but I have to say that the only bun bo hue I've tried was much more interesting than what you describe, good enough for me to get it twice. This is at Vietnam Restaurant in San Gabriel, from the woman who used to cook at Vietnam House. Fiercely (but not painfully) spicy broth, very rich strong flavor; the first time I ordered it, the kid who was waiting on us said, "Are you SURE you want that?" The bony, gristly bits are messy eating, but it sure was good both times.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Will Owen

      i mean the broth wasn't flavorless, so maybe bland was the wrong word, i'm not sure exactly how to describe it although rich is definitely not how i would describe it...i just felt it was lacking any depth or great flavor and hence I ended up putting a lot of chili oil / paste to kick it up

      its possible that it just doesn't do a great bun bo hue (yelp reviews are very mixed) and given i'm not a bun bo hue expert I probably need to try it a couple other places before I pass judgment on it as a dish

    2. Thanks for the report Lau.

      I have been hitting all the Little Saigon stores with my Vietnamese girlfriend (who has worked in several of the restaurants).

      Pho Thanh Lich which you visited has the best Pho Ga I have had yet. The broth is great and the meat on the side is always juicy and flavorful.

      Bun Bo Hue So 1 is very average at best in my opinion. The best place we have found for Bun Bo Hue is a place called Gia-Hoi. It is located at 9541 Bolsa Avenue (near Bushard). Their Bun Bo Hue is really tasty and the pork loaf in the soup is awesome.

      For Pho Bo, we really like Pho 86 at the corner of Ward and McFadden. The broth is always really good with a true beef flavor, strong but clean.

      Finally, for Che, there is a good place (sorry, I forgot the name) in the large center at the South East corner of Newland and Westminster. Accross the street from Seafood Cove. I really like their Che Ba Mao (sp?), or three colored che.

      I hope these suggestions lead you and others to find something that makes you happy!


      3 Replies
      1. re: HB_Jeff

        ahh thanks for the tips

        ill def give Gia-Hoi a try. I actually saw Pho 86 when I was driving around, but I didn't know it was any good....there are SO many restaurants, i sorta feel like there has to be all sorts of hidden gems in Little Saigon, i'm not sure why it took me so long to start trying them

        1. re: Lau

          There's a Pho 86 behind Thanh Lich. They have good morning pho (meaning the pho you get in the morning before the broth has cooked down all day).

          For che you want to go to the two branches of Hien Khanh. One is on Westminster between Brookhurst and Magnolia (same plaza as Thanh Son Tofu), the other is on Bolsa near Magnolia in the same plaza as Quan Hy.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            ahhh thats the place i was trying to think of damn it...i was trying to remember hien khanh b/c i wanted to try their che, but i forgot the name so i didnt go was planning on taking my mom there

            i also want to try thanh son tofu as well...i want to see how their soy bean milk is, been looking for a good soy bean milk place

      2. bun bo hue so 1 is far from being #1. It's composed of beef and pork broth and originates from central Vietnam old imperial capital Hue. We like to go to the restaurants that specialize in central Vietnamese cuisine such as Quan Hy (9727 Bolsa Ave), Quan Vy Da (9950 Bolsa Avenue, #B) or Huong Giang (14564 Brookhurst St)....although we favor the later two as it's a bit cheaper.


        6 Replies
        1. re: hppzz

          I much prefer to eat Bun Bo Hue than Pho. There are so many other dishes to order besides Pho. The Bun Bo Hue at Quan Hy is very good. Reminds me of the good places in BIG Saigon.

          Personally, I like Bun Cha Ha Noi, Bun Thit Nuong or Bun Oc! Those are some dishes that really have some ZIP! When you eat a good dish of Bun Bo Hue, you almost get a lemongrass/chili "high".

          Pho is good, but it is time to think "out of the bowl" and eat some Bun Bo Hue!

          1. re: bsquared2

            or try the bo tai chanh (Vietnamese rare beef carpaccio) that we just posted! :) or Mi Quang (yellow tumeric noodles)...we can go on forever... :)


            1. re: hppzz

              i love viet food, but when it comes to their noodle soups i think im somewhat biased as i prefer chinese and japanese noodle soups to most viet noodle soups w/ the exception of pho....i like the complexity of the broth meaning the beef flavor you get from having it simmer for so long

              i tried mi quang last time at ngu binh and i didn't love the dish although i could tell it was well executed at ngu binh. i plan on trying bun bo hue a few more times

              i also love bun cha ha noi, bun thit nuong and bun oc

              1. re: Lau

                Lau, have you been to Trieu Chau? It's rice and/or egg noodle soups in a light yet complex pork and seafoody broth. It's been on the corner of Newhope and First has been coming here for at least 15 years. Kinda dirty and gruff service, but it's oh so good!

                1. re: groover808

                  i love trieu chau, i did a short review on it a while back on my first real attempt to eat at all the great restaurants in little saigon

                  TC is literally one of the best noodle soups ive had outside asia

                  1. re: Lau

                    Haha, I should probably read your older reviews before suggesting places you've already been :) 2nd time now!

        2. I'm hooked on the pho ga at Pho Thanh Lich. The broth is clear, pure, and so flavorful that I am powerless to resist. I easily prefer this version over the chicken pho at Pho Kimmy.

          I agree that the beef pho is also stellar and I also prefer the balanced clean flavors of the broth at Pho Thanh Lich over Pho 79.

          Next time go on the weekends and try the duck vermicelli noodle soup. The broth is chicken broth based but with some duck broth mixed in. The resulting broth is also spectacular..

          5 Replies
          1. re: Porthos

            mmm sounds good, i didnt even notice the duck version on their menu

            1. re: Porthos

              I like the pho ga at Pho Bolsa NE corner of Brookhurst and Bolsa. Definitely get the chicken on the side, it's much better. It's the chicken that gets me, oh so flavorful and tender. How can this meat be just boiled chicken?

              I will have to try Pho Thanh Lich to compare.

              Pho Thanh Lich
              14500 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683

              Pho Bolsa
              13912 Brookhurst St Garden, Grove, CA

              1. re: ptruong

                hmm never been to pho bolsa, i'll have to try it

                be curious to hear your comparison as its likely you'll be able to try it before me given I live in NY....pho thanh lich is my go to when i'm home, but always looking for upgrades. I should be home in a month or so and i'll give it a whirl then

                1. re: Lau

                  Btw, tried Bun Bo Hue So 1 the other day. It was indeed very mediocre and almost flavorless. For a much spicier and flavorful version chock full of lemongrass (I think), go to Viendong. You can request it with beef only if you don't want the pig's foot. They have 30% off their bun cha so I usually get a side of that too. Very refreshing.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    ohhh I love Viendong will have to try their version

            2. For bun bo hue, my new favorite place in Ngu Binh. They also have excellent banh beo or the little steamed rice cakes with shrimp on top. I do agree bun bo hue looks like it would be really rich and earthy like a chinese beef noodle stew, but the broth is deceiving. It's just like pho where you have to add the condiments to make it your own and especially with the lemongrass/chili oil to taste. This place has a line in the morning when they open and it's pretty busy all the time, good sign!
              -Ngu Binh
              14072 Magnolia St
              Westminster, CA 92683

              For chicken pho, Pho Nguyen Hue is king in my book. You can choose between the normal noodles or the wider fresh "pho tuoi" noodles. Their chicken breast is especially juicy and tender even when I'm at the bottom of my bowl. Really bright and clean taste since it's chicken.
              -Pho Nguyen Hue
              10487 Bolsa Ave
              Westminster, CA 92684

              1 Reply
              1. re: groover808

                i heard about pho nguyen hue, so ill def give it a try

                i did try ngu binh, but not for bun bo hue, but i forgot that its one of their house specialties, so ill def give it a try there b/c although i didnt love mi quang, i could tell they do a good job there on their execution and i saw bun bo hue on a lot of people's tables when i was there