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Being a So Cal native, I've been lucky enough to have been exposed to many cuisines while growing up. My perspective on some cuisines I thought I knew while growing up, have completely changed thanks to a variety of circumstances (whether visiting the country of origin, or being invited to have home-cooked meals of that cuisine from friends, acquaintances, etc.). One such cuisine would be Pho: A bowl of Rice Noodles with Beef Broth and various cuts of Beef, originating from Northern Vietnam.
While growing up, my knowledge and taste for Pho were from random Pho restaurants that I got dragged to by friends, places like Pho 79 or Golden Deli (and random "Pho [insert number between 1 - 999]" places). I found it generally salty and MSG-laden and just "ehh~," in final result. I got used to humoring them and would eat a few bites (or turn to ordering other stuff like the Rice plates while everyone else had their Pho noodles).
It wasn't until one fateful day a few years back that I was invited by a friend of a friend's Vietnamese family to come over and try their homemade Pho. My entire perception of Pho changed that night. It was a slowly-cooked, long-stewed (10+ hours!) process of creating a pure, amazing Beef Broth, so light and supple, and full of home-cooking love. They used no MSG, and the mom told us that this was the way Pho was supposed to be, but that many restaurants didn't have the time to spend making the traditional broth, so they resorted to using ingredients to speed up the process of making a flavorful broth, using manufactured Consomme, MSG, etc.
Since then, I had given up on finding Pho on this level of quality in a restaurant, but a few years ago, I was dragged off to Pho Hien in South El Monte, where my friends claimed that it was a slow-cooked, pure, No-MSG soup. And it was true to their words, wonderful, simple, purity. Sadly, some ownership issues caused a disruption in this restaurant, unofficially leading to other spinoffs and copycats along the same street. And I was back to looking for a replacement...
Thanks to the wonderful post by Erik M, I found out about Pho Minh, a new restaurant that Erik ranked as the best Pho in town! I had to try this and dragged some of my Pho Hounds with me to try it out.
Pho Minh is located in a quiet strip mall, on the south side of Garvey Avenue, and walking in, we found a simple, L-shaped restaurant (occupying both corner spots of this mini-mall). They had the A/C going, and we opened up the menu to see a good sign: All they serve are 4 general items - Pho, the Vietnamese Noodles in 22 variations of essentially the same thing (e.g., "Pho with Flank Steak" "Pho with Brisket" "Pho with both of those + Tendon" etc.); a Bun Bo Hue (Special Hue Style Spicy Beef Noodle Soup); Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls); and a Com Tam dish (Broken Rice plate).
We all ordered their standard Pho Dac Biet (Special Combo with Rare Slices of Steak, Well-Done Brisket, Flank Steak, Tendon and Tripe, in Rice Noodles and Soup). When it arrived, it already looked like the real deal: Clear, light-colored Broth, with only a little bit of fat "bubbles" on the surface. The cut of Steak looked wonderfully fresh and not fatty at all (BTW, you can have the Steak added in the Soup already to start cooking, or have it outside and add it yourself).
We quickly added some of the fresh herbs that come complementary with these Beef Noodles - Rau Que (Thai Basil), Rau Thom (Mint), Ngo Gai, Bean Sprouts, and a little fresh Pepper slices, squeezing some of the fresh Lime as well - and dug in!
In a word: Wonderful. This was amazingly light, authentic Pho, with a beautiful Beef Broth could only be achieved by slow-cooking for hours and hours. The manager confirmed to us later that they cook their Beef Soup overnight, every night: "It's the only way to make Pho," as he stated. "We make it authentic, no MSG," he further added.
The actual cuts of Beef were good, but I preferred Pho Hien's Beef Brisket a little bit more. On another visit, I ordered their Dac Biet Pho Bac (Beef Filet (Tenderloin) Slices with Noodles and Soup, item "1." on their menu), which turned out to be my favorite. Their slices of the Filet were extremely tender and added the right amount of beefy goodness to their amazing Beef Broth.
It should be noted that if you're used to Pho from places like Pho 79, Golden Deli, etc., eating the simpler, "long-cooked / homemade" style of Pho may not be for you: I've had people tell me that it tastes "bland" or "not salty / rich enough." I liken it to Chicken Soup: A good, homemade, long-cooked Chicken Soup versus a bowl of a fast-preparation / rushed Chicken Soup at a standard American restaurant; there is a difference. It may take a few visits, but once you switch over, there's no going back. (^_~)
We also ordered their Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls), that you wrap with Lettuce Leaves and add various herbs to suit your taste. The Egg Rolls were nice and crispy, but were only decent compared to the amazing Egg Rolls at Vien Dong (Garden Grove), for example.
On another visit, I tried their Com Tam (Broken Rice with Pork Chop, Pork Skin and Egg) plate and as Erik M said, it was wonderful! This was probably the best Pork Chop, Vietnamese-style, that I've had so far. Very flavorful, moist, and not overcooked at all.
Pho Minh is a very simple, mom-and-pop-type eatery, with no ambiance or decor (but at least it's brand-new, clean, and they run a flat-screen LCD TV with Soccer Matches :), and simple service. Our total came out to be ~$8.00 per person (that includes tax and tip already :), and if you don't order their Egg Rolls, it'd be only ~$7.00 per person total.
As it currently stands, Pho Minh is one of the best Pho restaurants in L.A. for authentic, slow-cooked style, Beef Noodle Soup, Vietnamese style. It's wonderful, homemade, Pure Beef Noodle Soup, comforting and heart-warming.
*** Rating: 8.8 (out of 10.0) ***
9646 E. Garvey Ave., #108
South El Monte, CA 91733
* Cash Only *
Hours: Open Daily, 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.