I've been on here several times as an observer of so many bulletins on vietnamese food in the San Gabriel Valley. Some i agree with and some I don't. I am a vietnamese food critic for a large vietnamese newspaper. I come from a family of restauranteers and when you sit around a dinner table listening to all my family members talk of the good and bad of what is there to offer in the san gabriel valley, one has no choice but to soak it in and let the rest of the world know.
#1 rule on vietnamese dining ( ask any old vietnamese person and they'll tell you the same thing ) : Always eat in a vietnamese restaurant that is populated with vietnamese diners. If there are a lot of non vietnamese people ( caucasians ), the food is crap. Reason being, hardcore vietnamese people know what vietnamese food should taste like.
#2 rule. Beware of pho restaurants playing chinese music and the waitresses only speak chinese. This is the same thing as koreans opening up sushi restaurants because its profitable. It may be close, but its not authentic . Any vietnamese diner could tell the difference. Because pho is very desired, a lot of asians are jumping on the bandwagon to open one. Pho King closed as quickly as it opened for business a couple of years ago because of this.
- Pho Pasteur is not real pho. It is stocked up with a lot of soup bases from packages and msg. You can tell by looking at the broth that it is nothing but msg. You must look for clear broth because that denotes that the chef took time to let beef bones simmer for hours and hours to flavor the soup.
-Pho Hien ( not Hien-Mai ) is definitely a hole in the wall but is a surviving restaurant because they cook their pho broth overnight. If you just happen to drive by early in the morning, you can see an old lady carrying a huge pot of pho from their vehicle to the restaurant. They may not be #1 in customer service but they do know what they're doing.
-Pho Hien-Mai is the husband of Pho Hien's owner ( they got into an argument and he took off to open up a pho restaurant 2 blocks away ) He wanted to make as much profit as possible by speeding up the process of making pho and using msg. The wife believed in taking her time using natural ingredients like the old country to make her pho. She believed customers will be more loyal this way. ( This is a rumor amongst many vietnamese people in the community ). Hence, his restaurant is not nearly as busy as hers.
-Golden Deli is another restaurant that is definitely worth dining in BUT not for the pho. They're specialty is Bun ( vermicelli ) and any dish that uses fish sauce.
-Pho 79 is also good and their name/recipe is handed down from generation to generation. Their name is very well know because its been here since the beginning of time.
-Pho Nguyen Hoang is too expensive, period and they use too much anise seed in their broth. The aroma is too strong and it is overly used to drown out the msg they don't want you to taste.
-Bakery 101 on Garvey between garfield and atlantic is by far the best quality pho made. They use strips of filet mignon steak instead of rare beef flanks like typical pho restaurants do. This place is sort of hidden and their name doesn't denote that they're a pho restaurant. Their pho is from northern vietnam instead of southern. The noodles are wider as its characteristic.