This pains me to write. I have been an ardent supporter of Pho Thanh Lich since my first ethereal, transcendent bowl of pho soon after my move to Orange County. The tai (rare beef) on the side was just the icing on the cake. For years, I'd defend it against all comers, including Pho 79 cattycorner to it.
I've introduced dozens, if not hundreds, of people to pho by taking them to the low-slung, deep-eaved building on the southeast corner of Brookhurst and Hazard.
Sadly, the last three times I have been have been unacceptable.
First, the portion sizes have changed. Now, it's no secret that the economy sucks and people are having to cut back, but what was formerly the "small" pho is now the "large", and the new "small" is just that—small.
Second, the quality of the meat has really suffered. The last time, my gan (tendon) had "off" flavours, akin to if they'd been frozen in a funky freezer. The nam (brisket) used to be tender; now it's cut a little bit thicker and is tougher. It's also leaner, which robs the diner of the experience of the fatty slide of the meat, a needed counterpoint to the other meats. The last time I went, the tai-on-the-side looked like it had been sitting out for hours; limp and sticking to the plate. I didn't eat it.
The pho broth was greasy the last two times I went, which is what is causing me to consider not returning. Pho broth should not have gobs of beef grease on top. A little is fine, but when the first spoonful is 75% herb-flecked grease, it is not a pleasant experience.
The service has got ruder. I don't expect fawning service anywhere in Little Saigon, but Pho Thanh Lich was always a little cut above the slapdash pho shops that line Bolsa, Westminster, Magnolia and Brookhurst. I don't recognise the people in there, which makes me wonder if there's been a management change; when I tried to ask, I got treated pretty poorly.
If someone with better Vietnamese communication skills than I have can see if there's been a management change, I'd appreciate it. In the mean time, I have been going to Pho Quang Trung (the one in Garden Grove) in an attempt to establish myself as a non-Vietnamese who is not afraid of tendons and the like.
Pho Thanh Lich
14500 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683
Pho Quang Trung
10072 Westminster Ave, Garden Grove, CA 92843