ISO Great Pho in the South Bay
I don't really want to drive to the Westside or Garden Grove... I was thinking stopping by Pho Consomme in Gardena. However, since I'm not sure I would know a mediocre one from a great pho (not sure what constitutes a great pho), I'm open to suggestions on places, the dishes to order at those places, and what makes a great vs mediocre vs just icky pho.
Saigon Dish at Manhattan Beach Blvd/ Hawthorne (Spire's shopping center). If I ask the work crew (all Asian, including VN) if they want to order, every person will order at least one dish. Their menu is in Menu Pages (sorry Seamless!). Start with #13 Pho Tai (lean steak) as your gateway pho. If you want something that's more like won-ton soup, #17. Mi Trieu Chau (yellow egg noodle with chashu, shrimp, wontons fish & shrimp meatballsI) would be appropriate.
soup: flavorful, clear, meaty, with fragrant spices, served hot. it should stand on its own. south bay pho is often bland, too sweet, not spiced enough, or looks cloudy.
noodles: slightly chewy, comparatively less clumpy, and definitely not mushy. freshly made noodles are nice, assuming they aren't overcooked, though i don't think anyone around here makes fresh noodles.
herbage: ideally, they should set down a beautiful, spotless mound of herbs and bean sprouts after you order. most places just have thai basil, some add sawtooth herb (ngo gai), vietnamese coriander (rau ram), spearmint, and other herbs i don't know.
meat and offal: the rare steak (tai) should lay on top of the bowl and not be cooked through, but it almost always is around here. order it on the side to make sure, in which case it should be very fresh. i like it when they give you a variety of cuts of tendon (gan), especially the cylindrical part. beef balls (bo dien) should be flavorful and a little chewy, but not rubbery.
I personally like Thai Lai in Hawthorne. Usually only vietnamese people there and cash only...pho broth is really good as are most other soups