Three letters, one word, rhymes with “duh.” Pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, is quickly becoming a favorite among students. The soup is served in a large bowl with rice noodles and a mélange of beef and chicken bits, or, for the less brave soul, an assortment of veggies. As with most Vietnamese dishes, pho is accompanied by plates of herbs, spices and sprouts, as well as spicy sauces and pastes to intensify the flavor as the diner sees fit. Eaten with a wanton-like spoon and chopsticks, pho is a tasty and quick way to fill your belly on a college budget.
Maybe I’m just new to the pho lifestyle, but it seems these Vietnamese restaurants are popping up just about everywhere. Near my Pacific Beach abode, I don’t have to walk more than a block in any direction to fix a craving for pho. Finding it in the College Area is even easier, but quantity doesn’t always mean quality, which is why I set out to find some high-class pho.
I can still remember my first pho.
Apprehensive at first, as I had toyed with the idea before, deciding it was time to see what all the hype was about. I tried it close to home with an experienced friend and came to find pho was quite pleasant, something that should be enjoyed regularly. Since that experience, I have been open to the world of pho. Word on the street (and Yelp) was that City Heights is home to the most mouth-watering pho. So, after recruiting my most adventurous friend, my quest began.
On El Cajon Boulevard, pho restaurants are like Starbucks establishments, littering street corners and tucked into every strip mall. But one spot in particular, Pho King, caught my eye.
Nestled between Viet Nails Supply and Nguyen Huu Hung Dentistry, I figured this place was authentic. On the outside, Pho King looks generic and blends into the shopping center. Once inside, however, the spacious restaurant is adorned with colorful flowerpots, bubbling fish tanks and flat-screen televisions. The lunchtime crowd on a weekday keeps the servers busy, which provided my companion and me an opportunity to decipher the menu. Prices for appetizers such as shrimp spring rolls and rice paper wraps vary from $3.25 to $9.25 and bowls of pho cost around $5.45 to $7.25. After about 10 minutes of gesturing and pointing (the language barrier was a challenge), my friend successfully ordered her chicken pho and to my dismay, I found there were no vegetarian soups. What the pho? Begrudgingly, I ordered the vegetarian stir-fried rice noodles, a non-soup dish that was mediocre: greasy noodles, fresh vegetables and fried tofu with no real flavor except the chile paste I drowned them with. Suffice it to say, my friend had better luck at Pho King.
“If you’re looking for good pho, I’d definitely recommend this place,” she said, between attempts to use her chopsticks.
In the end, I wasn’t too disappointed with the $6 I’d spent, but in regards to Pho King, I’ve had better.
—Miranda Adler is a journalism and French senior who is getting that, ‘pho sho’.
—This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.