For those of you that know me, you know that my favorite Pho place, Tan Hoang Huong changed owners recently. This was devastating for me on so many levels. First of all, we tried about 15 Pho places before we discovered this place and it was one of the best. It was 7 minutes from my house, and I formed a friendship with the old owner and when I dined there, I was treated like I owned the place. We would eat there weekly at times. The pho was incredible. The new owner changed the recipe (for the worse of course). So I have been on the hunt for a new Pho place and it had to be close to my house. I know all of you are sick of me referencing my old place, but its an easy point of reference for me.
Enter Pho Bac Ky in Tustin. Its in the Stater Bros Shopping center close to the 5 freeway on Red Hill. The first thing I noticed was the owner greeting me. He was so friendly and you could tell so appreciative we came in. Always a huge smile on his face. He will never be as cool and hip as my previous Pho owner, but his friendliness really stood out. The interior is clean and neat but a little small. Nothing really memorable. At my old pho place it was very spacious. There would usually be cool alternative music playing or 2 TV's to watch. This place closes at 8:30 pm and at 8:30 it was 3/4's full.
My old place had a much better condiment selection. Pho Bac Ky is missing some of the things I loved. Satay sauce for one. They had a paste in a jar that looked like it, but it was really some sort of chili paste in oil. It wasn't very hot and sweet in taste. It wasn't bad. Maybe it was satay, but it tasted nothing like what I was used to. They also were missing the ground red chili paste with Garlic. On the plus side they had the Chinese pepper (white pepper I believe) instead of the regular pepper at my old pho place.
The spring rolls were incredibly average. Not as good as my old place. They lacked depth and complexity of flavor. My old place had the "pink mystery meat" in it and this only had some veggies, shrimp, vermicelli. The wrapper was soft and tasty. I found 2 shrimp kind of chintzy as well. The sauce did not have the peanuty flavor I loved and was kind of strong and salty. I probably will not order this again. I saw another table get some fried egg rolls and those looked really good.
I ordered the Pho with rare beef, tendon, tripe, and brisket. This is not the best picture because I already dumped all my veggies in it. The veggies you get are slice jalepenos, bean sprouts, cilantro, and basil. I miss the saw leaf (Gai) herb we used to get at our old place. It seems like very few places have it. But the Pho was AWESOME. The noodles were firm yet tender and had a great flavor to them. The meat was very tender and flavorful. The tripe was tender yet crunchy. The tendons were like beefy soft gummi bears (without the sweetness of course). You could taste the complexity of the broth. The anise, the beef, the slight sweetness. It was some of the best broth I have had. It also had a great "mouth feel" I don't know how else to describe it. When it went into my mouth it felt like it almost would vaporize in my mouth and release all its flavors. Then it would slide down my throat in a silky way. I drank the broth so the bowl was completely dry.
Mrs. Dog had the Chicken Pho which uses chicken stock instead of beef. I tried that as well. I could swear there were wisps of ginger. Very chickeny flavor in the broth. And the chicken is pulled from the bone as opposed to pre processed chicken.
This is why I will be back to this place....because of the Pho!
Finally we ordered some drinks. Cafe Su Da and a blended Lychee drink with Boba. I have not found better Cafe Su Da than what was served at my old Pho place. They used to import the coffee themselves as it was a special blend. I think Pho Bac Ky has a slight edge. Intense coffee flavor. Not just strong, but flavorful. You can almost taste chocolate under tones, but I know they don't add chocolate. Very creamy and a little thicker than most Cafe Su Da's. This is why I give it the edge. Great great great drink. They have it listed as French Expresso or something like that. When I ordered it I said "Cafe Su Da" please and the owner asked "are you Vietnamese?" I said "no, I am Taiwanese" He kept staring at me like he didn't believe me. He finally said, "I though you were Vietnamese because you pronounce Cafe Su Da perfectly" I guess I have Phillip to thank for that!
The Lychee drink wasn't that good. Too sweet and I don't know why its red. The boba's were very mushy and the drink separated (ice from the liquid) almost right way. At my old place, they were nice and thick and the ice was blended so smoothly it was like drinking a milkshake.
Total price for 2 bowls of Pho, Spring Rolls , Cafe Su Da, and the Lychee drink was $24.00. I found this to be a tad bit expensive. This would probably have costed $20.00 at my old place.
However the good far outweighs the minuses here. Its convenient and I really liked how the owner was so friendly. Service was fast and efficient and cheerful. And the Pho is spectacular. For these reasons, this will probably be our new regular place. I wish it would open later than 8:30 pm though.
Pho Bac Ky
14207 Red Hill Ave.
Tustin, Ca 92780