So I had never had pho until freshman year in college when I got introduced to this magical dish. I don’t know whether it really cures hangovers but I know its absolutely delicious and I love my pho tai. Even if it might be full of MSG.
There is nothing like watching those thin thin slices of rare steak cook in steaming hot beef broth with rice noodles, thinly sliced onions and herbs until the steak is mostly cooked thru but just kissed with pink in the center. At that point I add the fresh basil leaves, as much of the bean sprouts as I can (surreptitiously if I have to share my pho condiment plate with other people) and a couple slices of jalapeno. After that all I need is some hoisin and sriracha in a little side bowl to dip the slices of steak in. Ok that was a lot of steps but still. SO GOOD.
I’ve only eaten at a couple pho places in San Diego and so far I find them all good. I probably don’t know enough and haven’t had enough pho to be a good critic of it. I like the pho at Phuong Trang, Pho T Cali and Pho 5th Avenue. Pho La Jolla less so, partly because of the high prices and partly because even I could have guessed pho in La Jolla would not be super legit. But I was excited to try Pho Hoa in City Heights. A lot of people swear by it and its really well-reviewed on Yelp. All they do is pho too so one would think if they are still around they must be doing something right.
Overall the verdict was this was pretty good but not amazing. Broth was a little oilier than I’m used to but had a decent beef flavor, noodles were a wee bit clumpy but there was a generous meat portion. However, and take this with a grain of salt as I mentioned before I am by no means a pho expert, I didn’t think it was leaps and bounds better than the pho I have at Pho Fifth Avenue or Phuong Trang.
I do like that they give you ngo sai (the hidden saw-toothed leaf thats peaking out from underneath the basil in the picture above and that I initially thought was a rogue weed that made it onto the plate) as I had never tried it before. I also pretty much like all herbs and often ate the herb garnishes off peoples plates as a child like a rabbit. So more/new herbs is always a good thing for me. Service was also very efficient, they take your order and set down the pho condiments plate and literally 5 minutes later our food was in front of us. The restaurant is definitely bare bones but decently sized.
We ordered the Pho Tai, which are thin slices of rare steak. Weirdly it seemed like some of the steak slices had a pearly sheen to them. No idea what this was and although it must be some kind of connective tissue there was no chewiness or detectable taste besides the steak. Steak was a little tough and could definitely have been more tender, but it was nice to have a lot of beef.
We also ordered the Pho Bo Vien which is beef meatballs. This was ok too but the meatballs could have been more moist. My dining companion was Vietnamese and she said the meat balls her mom buys have (I think) tendon in them so they are yummier/less dry. She also shared my opinion that the pho was good but not worth the drive there.
Lastly, I also ordered Che Ba Mau or tri-colored dessert (or three colored dessert? not sure). It comes in a cup with crushed ice which I thought was quite nice. You have the green jellies at the bottom, sweet red beans, and jackfruit; all covered with coconut milk sweetened with condensed milk and a sweet red syrup at the bottom. This was great except I don’t love the sweet red beans, I mostly just stir it up and eat the jellies with the sweetened coconut milk. Definitely melted a little (and ok I ate a lot of it) before I got around to taking the picture, trust me it was much prettier before I mixed everything/it melted.
So the final verdict is solid pho but not out-of-this-world pho that is worth driving all the way to City Heights for. Fast service and low prices but in the end I’ll probably just keep going to Pho Fifth Avenue or Phuong Trang which are closer and have other good food options besides pho. Mostly those delicious charred beef rice paper roll things from Phuong Trang. Yum.
Pho Tai $6.50
Pho Bo Vien $7.50
Che Ba Mau $3.00
TOTAL (w/ tax) $18.36
4717 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115
- Pho Hoa mmm-yoso.typepad.com
- Noodling Around: Pho Hoa Revisited mmm-yoso.typepad.com
- The Early Bird: Pho For Breakfast – Pho Hoa radiusedcorner.blogspot.com
- How I Like To Roll @ Pho Hoa radiusedcorner.blogspot.com