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I am a Pho Virgin...help me lose it to somewhere really good.

I want my first Pho experience to be a good one...
Remember, that I don't do beef but chicken or tofu with lots of veggies..
Loved to know where you go for your Pho.

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  1. Pho 5th Avenue in Hillcrest is a good starting point, IMO. They cater to vegetarians much more than other pho shops do.

    They have a vegetarian pho w/ tofu and vegetables, which can be made with chicken broth, that my wife gets all the time, though she substitutes mock chicken for the tofu. That's a substitution I'd recommend, it's much tastier that way.

    Their tofu salad rolls are also very good.

    2 Replies
      1. re: Beach Chick

        Josh has the correct answer. They have a great pho mignon, which is rare (pun intended).

    1. This is a tough nut to crack because pho in the U.S. always seems to utilize a beef-based stock. Even the seafood versions use the beef stock as a base. I don't do mammals at all anymore and had pretty much given up hope of finding a decent beef-less pho here in San Diego. I'll have to check out Josh's suggestion.

      Any other really good beef-less phos out there?

      1. Pho Mignon on Convoy is a good choice. It is a bit more western friendly and the Pho is very good. Also, the waiters are all very friendly and talkative and many appear to be 2nd generation. They can explain things to Pho newbies. It also has some great beers on tap. My sister had a very good chicken, bok choy, and Tofu Pho. I did the standard Tai, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sach with the extra fat on the side. I think the broth was standard beef but with less fat than is normal, so some purists don't like as much. You didn't say specifically that you were a vegetarian and I'm not sure if they have a vege broth, but it is likely. My sister also doesn't like beef but was fairly happy with the broth. Soda refills also which is very rare in a Vietnamese place.

        8 Replies
        1. re: thirtyeyes

          do they have Vietnamese beers on tap?
          Do you spice up Pho with chiles?
          Thanks thirtyeyes..

          1. re: Beach Chick

            They also have (or had) a great squid salad special if you do seafood.

            They are expanding the beer menu, but not sure if they have a vietnamese beer on it yet. I've probably been there twice with 2 months between each visit and a lot of stuff changes (for the better) each time.

            As for the chiles, I don't think it's actually pho if you mess with the soup base by default. After they bring it out, the garnish usually gives some jalapenos that you can add to the soup, and you can always add your favorite hot sauce of choice. I suggest that you taste the broth before adding anything, and re-taste as you add more stuff to see how the flavor changes. One of the biggest mistake that most people make is that they start adding a lot of sauce before tasting the broth (and the broth usually tastes different every visit even at the same pho places)

            1. re: karaethon

              love seafood and squid too.

              So, they do have a little garnish plate of goodies..good to know but I hear the heart and soul of Pho is the broth and I always try and taste my food before I gussy it up with spice, garlic and more hot chiles.
              Thanks again Karaethon!

              1. re: Beach Chick

                Here's Nguyen's pho recipe. If you scroll down, you'll see the garnishes she uses which I do also. I love the little Thai chiles but I just put tiny slivers in. And, yes, the broth is divine. I know y'all aren't looking to make this but just reading the ingredients should give a newbie some idea of what to expect taste wise.


                1. re: Beach Chick

                  One of the things I liked is that their garnish plate includes ngo gai in addition to the normal bean sprouts, basil leaves, jalapeno, and lime. This was standard in San Jose, but ngo gai is rare in San Diego. My last visit they also had rice herb (that's what they called it) which was new to me, but it added a nice flavor.

              2. re: Beach Chick

                Pho is served with a plate of garnishes, typically basil, bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno, and limes. Most pho places will also have sriracha, and red chili paste on the table, too. Pho 5th Ave. you have to ask for the chili paste, they keep it in the fridge, but that's my favorite condiment by far for spicing it up.

                1. re: Josh

                  love chili paste too...the hotter the better for me!

                  #P21. Phở Rau Cải Đậu Hũ 6.25 / 7.25
                  Tofu and mixed vegetables with beef or chicken broth.

                  This looks like the one that would work for me..
                  Can't wait...is fresh garlic an option?

                  1. re: Beach Chick

                    Not sure on the garlic. Probably?

            2. Hope you didn't have a Pho.. bia about Pho. You can spice it up pretty well plus you'll get a side of veggies to stir in.

              1. Not to split hairs, but by definition isn't Pho beef broth?

                Thus, chicken stock and/or veggie "versions" aren't technically Pho, atlhough I'm sure they can be quite good.

                2 Replies
                1. re: wanker

                  According to Nguyen, chicken pho broth is made from chicken. I think pho refers to the noodles but I'm no expert.

                  1. re: wanker

                    Pho Ga is chicken-based, with chicken broth.

                    Pho refers to the soup - I don't believe it specifically implies one kind of broth or another. The other words at the end describe how it's composed. Apparently in Vietnam vegetarian versions are more common than they are here.

                  2. There is some controversy about the proper eating of the Pho. As I was taught, the chili paste was never added to the bowl itself. THe chili paste (and that other sweet sauce- plum?) goes on the plate in front of you, and the protein is dipped into it and eaten. Adding chili/sauce tot he soup itself was a no-no, as I was taught. But what do I know? (that's been established back with the bolonese slap-down).

                    For chicken only, Phuong Trang on Convoy has my vote.

                    Phuong Trang Restaurant
                    4170 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Fake Name

                      "that's been established back with the bolonese slap-down" :)

                      1. re: Fake Name

                        This is how I use the chili paste, myself (put on the plate, for dipping proteins in), but sometimes I will dump the remainder into the broth, depending on my mood.

                        1. re: Josh


                          Sorry, that is not allowed.

                        2. re: Fake Name

                          I was told by a Vietnamese that is the correct way to eat pho. Dip your protein into a plate or small saucer that holds the chili paste and Hoisin sauce so you don't destroy the integrity of the broth.

                            1. re: daantaat

                              Which reminds me why I always order a separate small bowl of broth and the Tai (Rieng) (rare steak) separately so that I can cook the Tai outside of the main broth.

                              What a difference it makes! The Tai is never overcooked (or it's my own fault!), cooking the Tai doesn't cool down the broth of the main bowl, the Tai is kept sweet and on the rare side, and you keep all of the scum (the rendered proteins) out of the main broth. One look at the resulting small bowl of broth and you'll know why you don't want this in the main bowl!

                              1. re: cgfan

                                That's great- but I can just imagine myself trying to communicate to the server- I have enough trouble just saying #33 large.

                                Always a language barrier. Even when, like a good American, I T A L K L O U D E R A N D S L O W E R.

                                And end my sentences with " ya savvy?"

                                1. re: Fake Name

                                  pointing and sign language usually works pretty well....

                          1. Is this a request for pho specifically or vietnamese noodle? You are a bit handcuffed by non beef pho except for pho ga. On the other hand, if you want to do vietnamese noodles in general, there are a wealth of possibilities. Hu Tieu is a great option for non beef eaters. The noodles can be rice based just like pho but thicker. You have to specify the type of noodle, egg or rice at many places. Minh Ky on el cajon is the best place in SD that I've tried so far, the convoy places are nice, but there are really lots of options along el cajon, and better than convoy (in my opinion).

                            1. The pho ga at Pho Bolsa in Mira Mesa is quite good and I'm pretty sure they do use chicken broth.

                              Bolsa Restaurant
                              9225 Mira Mesa Blvd Ste 118, San Diego, CA 92126

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: DougOLis

                                You are correct DougO, I had a conversation with the owner 24 chickens in the broth IIRC. The ginger/garlic condiment is a must for me and must be asked for.

                                1. re: DougOLis

                                  Absolutely... Though not much of a fan of the rest of their menu, this has been the go-to shop for Pho Ga for me. Pho Ga is really a separate specialty apart from Pho (Bo).

                                  There is one other shop that comes to mind, but I very timidly mention them as, even more so than Bolsa, their other items are dreadfully under par. But for the daring, and I haven't been there in quite a while, is the Pho shop a couple of doors down from Sorrento European Bakery in Mira Mesa.

                                  For whatever reason their Pho Ga (request on the bone) has always had a great, "chickeny" broth and the meat incredibly fall-off-the-bone tender with a distinct smokiness to the meat. Don't know how they can do that and fail on everything else, but then again, Pho Ga is a distinct specialty than Pho (Bo)...

                                  Bolsa Restaurant
                                  9225 Mira Mesa Blvd Ste 118, San Diego, CA 92126

                                  1. re: cgfan

                                    Interesting, you're talking about Pho VN? Haven't been there in years and only then for necessity.

                                    I was going to chime in with the Bolsa recommendation for Pho Ga. The owners are very nice (they try to hook me up with their niece from Australia every time I come in, always asking if I'm still with my current lady lol). But watch out, me and my mom have both independently come to the conclusion we have been overcharged there. And they know our family quite well.

                                    I'll chalk it up to mistake.

                                    Bolsa Restaurant
                                    9225 Mira Mesa Blvd Ste 118, San Diego, CA 92126

                                    1. re: deeznuts

                                      The overcharging part is something that I've heard a number of times from another frequent diner at Bolsa, and like you they know the family well...

                                      Re. Pho VN, you'll notice that I very timidly mentioned them after many disclaimers. However bad their Pho Bo is, (and it is), I've enjoyed the Pho Ga I've had there. Not stupendously good, mind you, but different and enjoyable...

                                      ...enjoyable, that is, except for the anxiety I feel before my bowl arrives, as I invariably expect to be proven wrong regarding their Pho Ga and have a bad experience.

                                2. If she eats Pho without beef, won't she still be a virgin? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. All this pho talk forced me to Pho Point Loma, quickly becoming my go-to for a bowl of the good stuff. I asked for the chili paste I'm used to getting from Saigon (the one on El Cajon Blvd) and they told me it was called sate.
                                    Does that sound right? Did I mishear? Maybe some expert pho pholks can help me out here...

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Fake Name

                                      No. There are two chili pastes. One is called sate, and is dark brown, with a number of spices in addition to chilies, + garlic and oil. The other one, no idea what the name is. It's simply red and chunky.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        are you referring to sambal ulek?

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            Sate, sambal and sriracha, a staple in my kitchen.

                                            Not all sate's are the same too. Find one you like. My friends mother a Laotian (think super spicy) makes the most kick arse sate in the history of sate's. it's so spicy I put about a quarter pinky's worth (I can almost drink the regular sate's)

                                    2. The best pho ga (chicken pho) that I've had was at Pho Ca Dao out at 52nd and El Cajon Blvd. If I remember correctly, the menu explains things carefully for pho virgins and you have choices for what kinds of chicken are put in the broth.

                                      Pho Ca Dao Restaurant
                                      5223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115

                                      1. Hi Beach Chick,

                                        Here is a link to a pho-centric story in the January, 2011 San Diego Reader written by KirkK, a long-time Chowhounder and well-respected food blogger: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...