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Aug 22, 2010 10:11 AM

Tentative demi review: Pho Ever, Vista

So I was driving in a neighborhood I don't visit often (S. Melrose just south of the courthouse complex in Vista) in the middle of the afternoon, starving because I hadn't eaten anything yet that day. Hungry as I was I have also learned through many trials and errors to not settle for the usual big chains/fast food places, because they always make my body feel bad afterward. But I told myself if I see a Vietnamese place, I'll stop. It is my position, until a bad experience proves otherwise, that even mediocre Vietnamese is far superior to most of what's out there in food-sad North County. And I have yet to encounter bad Vietnamese. Does it even exist?

My eye was soon caught by Pho Ever at 485 S. Melrose Dr, Vista. A small strip mall-y place, not far from the 78, new looking with a reasonably cheerful, clean, bright decor in an unfancy, almost fast-foodish way. It looked like it might be a place where you order at the counter, but in fact there is table service. There was a big screen TV on at one end with a sports program on. Not my ideal, but at 2:30 in the afternoon the restaurant only had a few patrons and I had no dining companion or reading material, so it was not offensive. There was also a radio on somewhere, playing classic rock and roll. Not what I would call good food music, but not so loud it would disrupt conversation.

I started with a beer to drink while I read the menu. The selection was limited to some typical brands (including Vietnamese "33", TsingTao, Corona, and some big-brand Americans) but they also had Stone P.A., which I went for.

Along with the regular menu they delivered a "Specials" menu, which grabbed my eye right away because it featured some dishes I had never tried before, such as their versions of "Sizzling Fish" "Pan Fried Noodles", and "Vietnamese Crepes". I had come in figuring I would probably order something typical and safe like Pho or Bun, but the Specials menu seemed exude a little cooking passion that spoke to me. I figured if they care, then I care.

I ordered the Vietnamese Crepe. This turned out to be outstanding. It arrived looking more like a folded omelette than a pancake-y crepe. But had a marvelous light, airy, crunchy texture typical of neither French-style crepes nor egg omelettes. Inside was perfectly cooked shrimp, pork, and other ingredients. Also on the plate was (I believe) mint basil, and lettuce leaves (not iceberg). Both greens were very fresh. There was also a small bowl of clear sweet-sour sauce (fish sauce?) such as is usually served with Bun noodle salads and other dishes. The owner-server asked me if I had the dish before and when I said no he suggested combining pieces of the crepe with the mint, wrapping it in the lettuce, and dipping it in the sauce. So- actually the crepe is a variation on the lettuce wrap theme? I wasn't expecting that. I made a mess of it, but lordy, it was wonderful! I enjoyed each bite, marveling at the pleasurable crepe texture the whole way through the dish.

At the end, I felt great. No bricks-in-the-stomach. Satisfied, but also energized. I complimented the server and promised to come back to try more dishes. He recommended the Pan Fried Noodles (which contains mixed seafood) for next time. And I will be back, to be sure. I have to know- did I get lucky with one dish, or do they really know how to cook there?

As to prices- it didn't occur to me I would be writing about the place, so I didn't pay a lot of attention. They were certainly quite reasonable. I think the Specials menu was in the $7-$11 range though I can't be precise about that.

I can't really call this a true review, thus the "tentative" "demi" disclaimer in the Title. It was a single dish eaten on a single visit. You can't really judge a place on that, or give it 'stars'. And I didn't even get into the Pho- which is in the name of the restaurant. But I thought that one simple dish was outstanding, and if they come close to that quality on the rest of the menu- I'm going to be a happy guy and will make a point to drive that route more often.

Hopefully others can add their own opinions of the place.

Here's a little newspaper blurb I found on the place (click to magnify):

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  1. I may never get there (not my stomping grounds) but I like your review. Direct, straightforward, and very fair and reasoned.

    Thank you.

    1. Pho Ever is actually a really good spot for Pho. Really good shrimp spring (summer) rolls too. It's next to Vista courthouse and easy to access to the 78. There are a few hole in the wall Vietnamese places in this area that are very good.

      1. Nice report! That crepe is called Banh Xeo, if you want to learn more about this dish. The sizzling fish dish sounds like it might be bun cha ca hanoi. You might want to check with the owner. If it is, it's one of my favorite dishes from Vietnam, turmeric-stained fish filets sizzled on an iron plate with onions and fresh dill, and served with dipping sauces and fine rice noodles.

        1. Thanks all, for your positive comments.

          I found a webpage for Pho Ever, however it does not have the "Specials" menu (or its dishes) I was presented with, and which I definitely want to order from again. But still there is plenty to look at, and a "Fan" page with lots of pictures. It says there is a Facebook page too, though I haven't looked at it yet. I'm almost wanting to go there now, but I really need to excerise!

          1. I went back and tried another dish, which was recommended by my previous server. The dish was Pan Fried Noodles- again, off the specials menu. While I appreciated the texture of the narrow flat rice noodles pan fried to a very firm texture (I needed a knife actually- which was not provided) that comprised the bed of the dish, the seafood toppings left something to be desired. While the shrimp and the squid were OK, there was some fake crab I did not really care for the taste of, nor what appeared to be some other type of 'seafood product' that was about the size of a scallop, but hemisphere-shaped. (Perhaps a "fish ball" cut in half? I wonder.) The brown saucing was lightly applied and delicate, neither memorable nor offensive. The taste of fake crab and the mystery hemisphere put this dish in the negative column. I would have been much happier if they just made the dish with pieces of fresh fish instead of products that have sweet-briney flavorings injected into them.

            So much of their menu looks good, however, that I'm still anxious to go back and try more. I'll chalk up this experience to taking food advice from an employee that does not share my sense of taste. Next time, I'll see what the kitchen recommends.