I sometimes read this place gets the vote for favorite pho house in San Jose. Located on Capitol Expy in the small strip mall between Silver Creek Rd and the Northbound 101 onramp, I always notice a line of cars pulling in or out of this strip mall. There is also a Nguyen Espresso (mens drinking cafe?) and a Bun Bo Hue/Broken Rice place in this tiny strip mall.
Yesterday I had a field project nearby so I decided to try it. I got here at 12:30 and circled the packed lot a couple times. I wanted to give up but thought if people were willing to park in every single not even a real spot spots, it must be good. Finally I saw a family walk over to their minivan and start to get in (of course it took forever for them to get into their seats, discuss god knows what for over 2 minutes, finally turn on their reverse lights, wait for another whole minute, before they finally pulled out of their spot). So I was in a bad mood walking in. Which mightve contributed to why I didnt like the pho at all.
First of, I grew up on northern pho and if think pho should be about the broth, not the crazy things you add to it. This place was clearly about the latter, a southern pho place. I shouldve walked right back out when upon entering I didnt get hit with the smell of pho like you normally do at a pho house. Also I was disappointed when my pho arrived and the tai (eye round steak) meat was fully cooked.
My first sip, all I tasted was salt. After a good squeeze from my lemon wedge, the saltiness was reduced and I was able to taste a hint of pho fragrance. Then I looked around, and saw everyone had the squeeze bottles of hoisin and sriracha out by their bowls. Wait a sec, are they eating Bun Bo Hue (Spicy beef noodle soup)? No, thats pho, just so dark brownish red from all the hoisin and sriracha they added.
Even the meats werent great. Besides the tough & dry fully cooked tai, the single piece of tendon was too soft, and the fatty brisket didnt have much of a beefy taste. After I ate all the meat and about half the pho, I wondered if I did what others were doing and added all sorts of stuff to my broth, would it improve? Usually lime/lemon, some sprouts and some basil is all I like to add. But since my pho was so bland I decided to go all out. I added bits of the sawtooth leaf herb (which was completely lacking in any fragrance by the way), a lot more basil, and a teaspoon each of hoisin and sriracha. Took a sip, and realized that was a mistake. It not only wiped out any taste of pho that bowl mightve had, it made it more salty. Oh boy. Im not one to waste food but I couldnt bring my taste buds to finish my bowl. Atleast it was a cheap lesson, only $4.75 for the small size ($5.50 for a large).
So I think Ill keep Dac Phuc as my current #1. Besides, theres no waiting interminably for parking there.