Pho Bac Ky has three outlets in Orange County. For Irvinites, the location on Barranca and the new one they erected on Jeffrey has become a reasonable and reliable destination for Vietnamese grub, without sacrificing life, limb, and the occasional dented fender battling through the traffic scourge and parking nightmare that is Westminster's Little Saigon. And I haven't even mentioned the 405 northbound during rush hour.
Maybe I'm exaggerating here, but hey, try to get some Pho for lunch on Saturday there on Bolsa, and tell me how it goes. I bet it's enough to swear a non-Chowhound off banh mi's and cha gio's for good. And as much as I love Little Saigon, most days I'd rather stay close to home and focus on the eating rather than the defensive driving and the fight for survival.
So with a hunger for Vietnamese one Friday night, we decided to try the third location of Pho Bac Ky; the one in Tustin on Redhill as recommended by Diamond Dog in his review.
Upon our arrival, we immediately noticed how tiny the place was. In a dilapidated strip mall, the store front barely registers in your peripheral vision. Like Waldo, you'd miss it if you weren't looking for it. A single word, "Pho" appears on the marquee in a thin font. Stenciled on the window in white, "$3.99 Special" - a ploy to get price sensitive consumers (like me!) in the door.
Mirrors lined opposite walls, a common trick to give the illusion that the restaurant is bigger than it is. And this place sure needed it. The dining room was grungy and grimy - exactly the kind of vibe you'd get at any of those joints in Little Saigon. It was more than apparent that this is the ugly sister to the two Irvine debutants, which don't feel like Vietnamese restaurants at all. The doors were kept wide open to let in a breeze; a vain attempt to compensate for the struggling A/C system. Oh did I mention that it was like a sauna in there? "Like a sauna." How's that for a tired cliche?
Sitting inside the restaurant gave me a vague sensation that I was *actually* in Vietnam. My skin slowly dampened and beads of moisture formed on my forehead from the humidity.
I opted for the $3.99 special of BBQ chicken skewers since a hot bowl of pho would have surely done me in for a heat stroke. The dish consisted of three generous skewers of grilled chicken, yellow rice, a small bowl of pho broth, sliced tomatoes, cool cucumber, and a small bowl of piquant nouc cham. The chicken skewers, flat and wide like a Thai satay were well-marinated. I could taste the herby lemongrass and a distinct, bold flavor and aroma that could only be fish sauce. Also pleasant was the slight grill charring on each morsel of meat. It was a damn good meal for $3.99.
I also tried the pho that my girlfriend ordered (also $3.99), and it tasted just as good as the other two Irvine Pho Bacs. The broth resonated with anise aroma and the unmistakable sweetness and presence of beef. It perhaps tasted better to me since it was $2.00 less than the same bowl in Irvine.
Little Saigon quality, at a Little Saigon price, in Tustin!
Pho Bac Ky
14207 Red Hill Ave.
Tustin, Ca 92780