A good bowl of Pho is the Cadillac of noodle soups. Its origins from a hot and humid climate means that it must be light enough for digestion while nutritious.
The ingredients are simple and the preparation straightforward, yet a well executed Pho is a rarity. Not only is it highly dependent on the quality of the meat, for texture and flavoring of the broth, but also the rice vermicelli is a delicate noodle that is easily overcooked if not closely watched.
I came across Saigon Noodle House by chance, while doing some shopping, and walked in on a whim. The place is nothing fancy, but clean and breezy without being cold.
I went straight for the kill and ordered a Dac Biet (the Pho with tripe, tendon, meatball, brisket, and thinly sliced rare sirloin). This is the mother of all Pho, all other Pho being a simplified version of this one. There are many so-called noodle houses that serve Pho but you won’t find tripe and tendon on the menu, because Americans will not order it, or will send it back when they find the chunks of book tripe whie looking for brisket. Silly Americans… The good stuff is in the tendon and the tripe. There’s always meat to be had somewhere, but a savory piece of tendon that simmered in the fragrant Pho broth? That’s the stuff. Pearls to swine, as they say…
But I digress and am risking to turn this review on a dissertation about Pho (because Pho is a deep topic, worthy of scholarly attention). The bowl that was served was the best Pho I had in Southern California. Disclaimer: I haven’t been to Little Saigon yet. The broth was fragrant, clear enough yet savory without heavy particulates and had a warm glow. Sometimes Pho broth is loaded with tiny particles of flesh and meat foam residual that comes from the long cooking of the meat. This can be avoided by more careful skimming and simmering of better quality pieces. When you avoid this residue, the broth takes on the colors imparted by the seasonings, and is clearer, and sweeter tasting.
Indeed the meat was of high quality, which is hard to find when you consider the average price of a bowl of Pho. It makes a world of difference. The best Pho I ever had was in Austin, and it was because the meat was superb.
On to the noodles. Perfectly cooked so that they do not stick together and came apart easily. There was a slight firmness under tooth. The herbs were all fresh and without blemish, and I threw the whole lot in, along with a squeeze of Sriracha sauce to bring up the heat to where I like it. Overall, it was the most delicately balanced Pho I have had in a long time, and I’ll be back for more.
I had a sweet iced coffee to cool me down, though it was not served in the traditional percolating cup. The service was prompt and polite enough, but there’s really not much more I can say about that. Reviews on Yelp are a mixed bag, but I got a good feeling for this joint, having been there only once. I’ll give it my thumb up.
RaphaelSaigon Noodle Restaurant 28 N Raymond Ave