Now, mind you, I didn't say great pho, but decent to good pho is something to cheer about in this town: since moving to Merced four years ago, I've missed Vietnamese food more than any other cuisine, and have developed some serious cravings Lucky Pho was open for a short while and was mostly pretty good, but the location and ambiance may have done it in, and it didn't last (plus service left a lot to be desired). I once had an excellent version of Pho Ga at Thai Cuisine II, but on a subsequent visit it was salty and one-dimensional, not good at all, and since I have never been a huge fan of the service there, I gave up on trying...besides, I wanted to eat the pho in a Vietnamese place.
So, I definitely did a double take when, driving down Olive the other day, I say a sign for "Vietnamese pho and sandwiches": asked around and starting hearing some good things...I believe Saigon Pho and Sandwiches has been open about a month.
Finally, made it there for lunch today for lunch with a friend. It is tucked into the corner of a strip mall on Park near Olive, close to Merced High. Plenty of parking and easy to find once you know where Park Street is. I was meeting my friend there. She had already snagged a table: on a Friday at 12:30 it was packed with a diverse crowd. Nice to see a full restaurant in Merced. The storefront looks small, but is long and surprisingly large. Spare but pleasant decor with all the right condiments on the table. Service was very efficient and friendly. Table service, then you pay at the cashier.
Since I was running late and we both had to get back to work, I didn't spend as much time checking out the menu as I would like, but it appeared to be mostly soups and sandwiches as the name implies, with a few other noodle dishes, some spring rolls, etc. I will definitely be back to try more. I had the pho with rare beef, brisket and flank; friend had the house special with tripe, meatballs, and beef. Large orders were about $7 (I believe a small was $5.50?) and we both had more than we could finish in between catching up. Lovely fresh basil, been sprouts, lime and jalapeno on the side. Plenty of sticky noodles. Would have liked more variety of herbs, thai basil perhaps, but I am definitely not complaining.
Both broth and beef in mine were flavorful; and the broth was of medium richness. Not as much beef as I'd want to see, but what I had was good quality. Friend was also happy with her combo. My iced coffee was too weak and made before being brought to the table.
By Oakland standards, the pho was well, pretty standard. But by Merced standards, it is as good as it gets. The location is great for a break from shopping or for a halfway meeting place between the UC Merced campus and downtown (not as convenient for travelers passing through). I am sure Merced College and UC Merced students have found it too; the place stayed pretty busy the entire time we were there. I am so happy to see a bustling, good, low-priced, attractive restaurant with good food, that isn't Thai, in this town. I plan to head back soon to try more of the menu, especially the Banh Mi. Would love to hear reports from others.
Saigon Pho and Sandwiches