This is my first "real" post, so please bear with me...
Just having satisfied my weekly craving for pho, I feel that this is a good time as any to discuss the newly (relatively) opened Pho Bac Ky in Irvine and make some comparisons to its competitors.
As I mentioned, I just got back from dining at newer Pho Bac Ky. First the physical location. Though the new Pho Bac is not nearly as large as Pho 99, it is much more spacious and inviting than its other Irvine sibling, with more seating both indoors and outdoors. The shopping center itself is easier to get in and out of, especially when compared to the zoo of a parking lot that Pho 99 is located in. OK onto the pho and food
Since Pho Bac Ky is still offering a buy one entree get one 50% off special, my father and I decided to order a total of three entrees (my eyes are bigger than my stomach or so I like to think). We ordered pho sac (beef and tripe), chicken curry, and a charbroiled chicken bun (vermicelli). The broth of the pho was much clearer and more aromatic than that of Pho Bac on Barranca, which I have always complained as being too cloudy. I also noticed that the broth was less fatty than the other Pho Bac location, allowing the flavors of basil, sirachi and other subtleties to stand out more (granting that you dont succumb to the temptation of dousing your broth with sirachi as I often do!!). Overall, I still prefer the pho at Pho 99, since they use a more tender cut of beef and prevent the meat from being overcooked before it gets to your table. At Pho Bac, I have often had the misfortune of getting to my bowl of piping hot pho to find the meat cooked fully through and inching toward the point of being dried out. The down side of all Irvine shops is that they really do skew the noodles-meat ratio, causing you to hunt like a ravaged carnivore looking for those last precious slices of beef or tripe.
The chicken dishes we ordered at the new Pho Bac Ky were delicious and well presented. The chicken curry was perfectly seasoned and not too oily, a frequent complaint of mine when it comes to curries. It came with the typical side of rice, slices of cucumbers and tomato but also with some sort of soup (looked like miso!??...don't know since my dad ate it and he is not chowhound but he seemed to like it) I was equally impressed with the presentation and taste of the vermicelli. It came on a long boat like platter with a delicious nuc mum based sauce. Its hard to make non-pho based comparisons to other restaurants but I have had a solid pan fried noodle dish at Pho 99 as well as a finger lickin' beef bum me flavored with Korean BBQ sauce (ok, so I dont know how "authentic" that is but it was good so who cares). The only other dish I had at Pho 99 was their spring rolls and they weren't anything to write about, so I wont.
Service. Ok so its a Vietnamese restaurant and really it wouldnt be an authentic experience if you saw your "waiter" more than two or three times- when taking your order, bringing your food and then when bringing the bill (if you dont pay at the door). But at the new Pho Bac Ky, it seemed as if the wait staff was trying to join my father and I at the table. Every couple of minutes they were refilling the water, asking how the food was, or generally just checking up on us. I couldnt believe the quality of the service, since the other Pho Bac location clearly doesnt follow the same service oriented philosophy. Still, as in all Vietnamese restaurants the meals came out at different times but in this case, not nearly as ill timed as with Pho 99, when the last time I visited, my companion's stir fry tofu came out a 10 agonizing minutes before my beloved pho.
My only wish is that Pho Bac would apply for a alcohol license so I could enjoy the occasional beer with my pho. That would really cap off the meal. Overall, I definitely prefer the new Pho Bac to its predecessor on Barranca. The three dishes, with the discount, came to $18. If I had to choose between the new Pho Bac and Pho 99--I would choose Pho Bac simply for ease of getting into the center and the service--wow-who woulda' guessed the service?!