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my pho problem

Thi N. | Aug 27, 200306:06 PM

It's kind of weird. L.A. has been so good to me far almost all things Asian - currently the noodle fixation, before that the Shanghai restaurants, before that the dumpling fixation, perfect Japanese noodles, etc. And my home-cuisine, Vietnamese, I've had damn fine stuff, down in Little Saigon. Best che I've yet had, glorious crepes, stunningly soft rolled noodles.

But the basics, pho and banh mi, I have yet to find anything to my satisfaction.

Banh mi is the lesser problem. Tried Lee's, tried Che Cali (home of my favorite che), tried Buu Dien, at least eight or ten others around Little Saigon, nothin' great. But that's OK. Banh mi is a snack, but it doesn't call to me.

But pho, I need pho. And I haven't found an honest pho.

By honest I mean this: the center of pho is the broth. The broth must be a clear, clean beef flavor. It has to taste of beef, it has to sing of beef. Good pho broth is like... looking down a deep, vastly clear lake, or ocean - like Lake Tahoe, or over the reefs at Maui. You know that blue? That infinite blue? That's where the beef flavor has to be in the broth. EVERYWHERE, ALL THE WAY DOWN.

And, after that - good bits of beef, properly gently chewy noodles, and at least two, preferably four or more, varieties of fresh herbs. The beef broth has to be clear enough and clean anough that you can taste the lime and each of the types of herbs you put in. Good pho is a bowl of freshness.

I have had excellent pho in San Jose. (Best of all: Pho Y. SF Chowhound Melanie Wong sent me an e-mail awhile ago - she visited the place finally and thought it was stunningly clear in its beef broth. So it ain't just me.) I have had excellent pho in San Francisco. I've had an astoundingly large amount of very good pho in Boston. I have had earthshattering pho in Montreal. But all the pho I've had in this town, it goddamn stinks. (Well, no, some of it reaches passable, but just barely.)

The broth is the center of the problem.

At least 5 or 6 really crappy pho places in Little Saigon that I can't remember.

The best so far have been:

Pho 79, Chinatown: kind of crappy. The broth was confused in flavor. No clear beef flavor in the broth, lots of vague indistinct spice flavors, old spice flavors. Poor beef.

Pho 54, Little Saigon: Better. Not actually bad broth, and the best plate of various sorts of herbs. (In general, Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon have stunningly good herb selections.) But, broth was not actually particularly good, and the noodles were unmemorable.

Pho Hoa, Chinatown: Pho Hoa is a chain, with exceedingly good branches in San Francisco and Boston. Tends to be quite reliable. But the Pho Hoa here was clearly the worse one I've ever been in. Well, the noodles were actually quite good, and the beef cuts almost excellent. But the broth! Completely salty, almost no actual fresh beef flavor, just a kind artifically amped up with strong masking flavors. Couldn't even taste the lime juice and herbs. And only one kind of herb, too. Cripes!

What's the problem? There shouldn't be better pho in Boston than here. Is there a water problem here? Surely these places could use bottled water...

Anyway, does ANYBODY know of a place with nice, clean broth?


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