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Jan 27, 2010 06:48 AM

San Diego PHO?

anyone have a yummy pho place?

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  1. Depends on what part of SD, for the Mira Mesa area I'm a fan of Lucky for Pho Dac Biet and Bolsa for Pho Ga.

    9 Replies
    1. re: stevuchan

      Well, we're stying in Rancho Bernardo, but we'll be in La Jolla and SD...Balboa Park, the zoo. We have a car, so I'm game for anywhere that has great pho!

      1. re: tattud_gurl

        Since it's only 8 miles away from where you're staying, at least one visit to Pho Saigon in Escondido would be in order just to try out a Pho shop that actually makes their own noodles. Their noodles are incredible! This is complemented with a very nice broth and quality protein items, though my absolute favorite bowl will combine their noodles with Pho San Marcos' soup and protein items. And don't be surprised by a front of the house that's largely Latino; they are very well trained and know their Vietnamese words very well, which is how I always order.

        Mira Mesa has a good pocket of Pho shops, of which my fave is Pho Cow Cali, despite it's cutesy/corny name. Pho Lucky across the street is a good alternative with their more aggressive though less refined broth, but not quite on par with Pho Cow Cali. Finding a good Pho Ga is a lot trickier, though my two spots are Bolsa and Pho Viet Cali. I really don't like Bolsa very much at all, but they do a pretty-good on-the-bone Pho Ga. And honestly I'm always a bit scared about mentioning Pho Viet Cali as they have a disastrous Pho, (really!), and I seldom go, but somehow their Pho Ga is a standout (when ordered on the bone). The chicken is tender and has a very smokey quality to it, and I like it better than even Bolsa's Pho Ga.

        Pho shops in Kearny Mesa are not that great, but for that area Pho Convoy has really improved and would be my only pick.

        Further south there's another pocket of Pho shops in Linda Vista, though I do not know what to recommend in this area, and another pocket of Pho shops around City Heights where the VN community first established their first restaurants in the city.

          1. re: cgfan

            Pho Hoa In linda vista used to be about the best Pho in San Diego IMO. Funny enough my friend's family took it over (my friend opened up Sao Bien in PB) and I've heard it's changed, but I'm not sure since I haven't been since the takeover (I went to law school right there so was a regular until I graduated). In East Side, what you all call City Heights :D, there is place that is also called Pho Hoa, it's next to the 7-Eleven on Euclid and El Cajon blvd. That was our go to spot when I was younger. There was a big cow head in front. Much has changed since I frequented down there, my girlfriend's mom knows all the favorite spots down there though, she makes weekly trips from Carmel Valley all the time.

            If you are in RB, there are some Pho places there too. Maybe someone can shed some light on them. I just go to Pho Cow Cali Express (what a weird name, used to be just Hoa Cali, Cali for short). It's good, consistent and quick, and clean. Coming down the 15 freeway it's right off Mira Mesa Blvd exit and very convenient for you. I'd give it a shot.

            1. re: cgfan

              I've been to Pho Cow Cali at least half a dozen times and have always had great pho. Of the two times I've been to Lucky, one was a disaster and the other was good (if slightly overcooked). My impression is that Lucky is just not very consistent, which may have to do with the fact that they never seem to have nearly as much business as Pho Cow Cali (which is just across the street). The bakery at Lucky does turn out some good and cheap (B2G1 free) Banh mi.

              1. re: hye

                This is my experience as well. back when Lucky was still 79 (down the street east of the 15 freeway) their pho IMO was excellent, and was 2 for 1 on weekdays. Could you beat that?

                I only go to Lucky whenever I show up at Cali and they are closed (some Holidays)

              2. re: cgfan

                been to Pho Cow Cali many times and they have a lighter yet flavorful broth as compared to Pho Lucky.

                Pho Lucky's broth is "denser" in flavor but tasty. My only gripe about it is it is very salty and I'm always drinking a gallon of water the rest of the day.

                Pho Ca Dao has a lighter broth than Pho Cow Cali.

                1. re: daantaat

                  Ding ding ding ding! Well said, daantaat! All of these shops' broth have different "personalities", and you've called it just how I taste them. Although I prefer Pho Cow Cali's broth over Pho Lucky's and find Pho Ca Dao to be almost insipid, I'll vary it up at times just to have a change of pace.

                  Pho Cow Cali - nuanced with complex and layered flavors, though in a light colored soup; addicting, with plenty of Umami to keep you thinking about it between visits

                  Pho Lucky - darker taste and color with a very brothy but simple flavor, more rustic in personality and a beefier broth than most Phos; my (occasional) change of pace choice between my many visits to Pho Cow Cali

                  Pho Ca Dao - very, very light, many times approaching watery; doesn't ring my bell

              3. re: tattud_gurl

                If you are in Vista or close enough to try then hit up Pho Ever. This place has everything done authentic and quality of the meat and veggies was up to my standards which are high. here is the info, hope you like it too.

                Pho Ever
                485 South Melrose Drive
                Vista, CA 92081-6663
                (760) 630-3837


            2. Just went to Pho La Jolla for the first time last night and was pleasantly surprised. Great broth and more than just pho on the menu. Very friendly staff as well.

              2 Replies
              1. re: hopkid

                Pho La Jolla is not bad, but not great either. They do charge more than other places, but there's a discount if you're a student.

                They used to have Banh mi - and by used to, I mean they had it for the first few days after the opened. Then for nearly a year, their excuse was that they couldn't source bread (really, baguettes?). Resumed Banh mi production for about a week, but then stopped because people waiting for Banh mi were getting in the way of their sit-down customers. (Banh mi for take out only)

                It's a decent option in La Jolla if you don't feel like driving, but I still hold a grudge over the banh mi situation - would stop in every few weeks or so to ask and always turned down.

                1. re: hye

                  I'm definitely going to try some of the other pho options touted here. PLJ is just so convenient to where we live. We can easily walk there. But I understand your bitterness about the banh mi situation...especially if it they did a decent banh mi. FYI, they're in the process of expanding their dining area.

              2. Pho Hoa, located at the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Euclid Avenue in City Heights. Extraordinary Pho!

                1. There is a growing collection of San Diego Pho Reviews at Personally I would recommend Cow Cali Express if you're in the North, Pho Time in PB or Pho Hoa in El Cajon.

                  1. Just came back from Snowboarding and was thinking, I'm never up this way hardly, so I'm going to see what this home made noodles business was all about. So I head to Pho Saigon Express in Escondido - is that the one? It must be, I was shocked by the Latino guy taking my order, and he knew both Vietnamese words (me) and Lao (my buddies).

                    I've been pimping the noodles all the way down the mountain, saying I have to try this. So my buddy asks the guy, "do you make your own pho noodles?" "No, we buy our pho noodles."

                    What the Pho?

                    At that point, I'm like whatever, we need a bowl of Pho, so lets dig in. I give the noodles a few more seconds than normal to soak in the broth. I take a bite, and it does seem different. Texture was more spongy (in a good way) then the regular noodles. Flavor wise, I'm coming off a cold, and off a mountain, so I probably couldn't detect any nuances this time, but the texture was very very nice.

                    I must say, I dunno if it was my hunger after a day on the slopes, but that was one of the best bowls of pho I had in a long time. I don't like to rank "GOAT" dishes as who can remember such things, but this bowl was very good. Broth was good, proteins were sliced thin and all tender (I'm not a huge meat eater when it comes to Pho). It was definitely worth the visit.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: deeznuts

                      deeznuts: Glad you made it out there. Nice to get some CH backup on this "not in your typical Pho district but excellent" Pho place. Yeah for the best Pho noodles I've had!

                      Yup, and that is the one... Pho Saigon in Escondido...

                      Yeah they must have a very well-trained staff as every time I've been able to order using the VN words and the Latino staff always knew what I was asking for, even when I asked for Tai Rieng and Nuoc Beo!

                      The next time you are there make sure you ask the owners if they make their own noodles. Though they said that twice to me, and though their noodles are a standout winner, a part of me always wonders if I heard it right. On the other hand I've been raving about their noodles well before they told me that they were home made as being the best, so in a way it really doesn't matter to me. They have the best Pho noodles that I've had from any shop in S.D.

                      Personally I wouldn't say their noodles are spongy; but perhaps we're using different words to describe the same thought. To me they have an inner strength, or resilience, to them that is separate from whether or not they are over, properly, or under cooked.

                      1. re: cgfan

                        Yes I can't pick the right word for it. Regular noodles, when they are this soft and succulent, they are usually overcooked and break up in the mouth, or usually, in the bowl before you even get to them. These seem to be both soft, yet structurally sound, if that makes sense.

                        Will be taking my girlfriend and her very very particular Mom up there next, so we shall see if I was just extra hungry :D

                        We need a good Pho Bac place in San Diego (northern style pho). Love the stuff, but only get to eat it, when I go back to the Motherland.

                        1. re: deeznuts

                          what is the difference between northern style pho and the pho avail in San Diego?

                          1. re: daantaat

                            Northern style pho (and food in general) is more minimalistic. You have broth, noodles, and proteins, and minimal garnishment. It really is about the broth. There usually isn't a plate of herbs/sprouts/greens accompanying the bowl. In fact, one of the best bowls I ever had (in a small village where my dad was born, it was in South Vietnam but the whole village was transplanted from the north) the restaurant didn't have anything that would be classified as produce, and nothing on the table. What you got was what you get.

                            But the broth was so flavorful, without being salty or overpowering. You took a sip, and you did not feel like you had to add anything at all. So the broth is usually more bold. The noodles are usually wide/fat. Before there was a proliferation of pho shop in San Diego, my mom made pho with the wide noodles. I had culture shock when I had thin noodles for pho, but now that's all we eat, even at home. A few pieces of protein. Minimal greens in the bowl, usually scallions, maybe cilantro equivalent. Simple, yet bold.

                            Even stateside, I never add hoisin sauce to my broth, I find it too sweet. But I'm a hot sauce freak (I've been drinking sriracha since I was a kid) so Sriracha goes into the broth, yes Im not that pure :D

                            My mom (or was it my uncle from VN, I forget) gave me a short history lesson. Pho was originally from the north, probably derived from a chinese dish I think. It was not traditionally a Southern dish. When the whole Communism thing happened, there was the great migration of 1954 (how my Northern parents came to reside in the south). With it, they brought Pho. The South adapted it, and added all the garnishments. I like both since I love fresh herbs and produce. Sometimes you see restaurants say, "Pho 54" they mean the original style as it was in 1954. If not,they're just doing it wrong.

                          2. re: deeznuts

                            I know what you mean; it's a quality of good noodles that I call resilience, strength, or "guts". It has nothing to do with whether it's under/over/properly cooked or not, but a separate quality of the noodle itself.

                            BTW while I believe that Pho Saigon has the best noodles, another North County surprise has been Pho San Marcos who I swear has the best broth amongst the bowls I've had in San Diego. I swear, both of these shops, Pho Saigon and Pho San Marcos, had me questioning my sanity for they're both shops far removed from the well-known clusters of Pho shops in S.D.

                            BTW thanks for the backgrounder on Pho; Interesting about Pho "NN" naming. So a shop named Pho 54 would be a good bet for a bowl of Pho Bac? I think I once came across a similar history, perhaps on Wikipedia. Sure would like to try a bowl of Pho Bac for comparison's sake.

                            1. re: cgfan

                              It should be, but I've come across shops called that (and Pho Bac) that were anything but. I'd skip it unless I knew it was truly good Pho Bac. Just doing some quick searches right now there is a place up in SF that looks to be a purist (reading your Kaito thoughts I know you'd appreciate that!) style shop, but it's far from here.

                              Maybe I''ll just go ahead and cook it myself hah

                              1. re: deeznuts

                                Oooh oooh! Can you sneak in the name of the SF place?

                                1. re: cgfan

                                  Turtle Tower on Larkin. I may make a trip next time I'm up there as we're up there often.