Saturday, October 20, 2007

What could be better than a little bling with your pho?

Pho 79
Asian Garden Mall (Ground Floor)
9200 Bolsa Ave Ste 117
Westminster, CA
(714) 893-1883
3 out 5 grains of rice

By Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.

While I escaped a lifetime of living behind the Orange Curtain (otherwise known as Orange County, CA), there are certain benefits. Besides visiting the parental units, one huge plus is the existence of Little Saigon (an area bounded by Harbor Blvd., Beach Blvd., Warner Ave. and Garden Grove Blvd. where Westminster, Garden Grove and Santa Ana, CA meet). Little Saigon boasts the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam and is the land of 24 hour pho and other delectable treats. There are so many pho places it is quite frankly overwhelming to pick one. Luckily, circumstances made the choice for us. Mom and I went to the Asian Garden Mall to visit her favorite jeweler (who restrung my triple strand pearl necklace for $50!) and then got caught up looking at the bling. The Asian Garden Mall is the largest jewelry mart in Orange County. We worked up quite the appetite after spending over an hour trying on diamond and gold jewelry. While there are many options in the food court, one caught my eye -- Pho 79. Yelpers had recommended this place (which has several branches) and I decided to give it a try. I have been craving a good bowl of pho since last weekend when a visit to a highly recommended pho place in Silver Spring was foiled by arson. (Apparently, the restaurant had suffered a fire).

Pho 79 is pretty bare bones. Not much atmosphere, plastic orange booths, fluorescent lighting and very little English spoken, which is just the right formula for a magical mini-mall ethnic food experience. The pho here comes in 3 size - small, medium, and large. Mom and I ordered the medium, which was ginormous. I can't even imagine getting the large size. I got the rare beef pho and mom got the duck and bamboo shoot pho. Standard sides (fresh bean sprouts, mizuna leaves, basil leaves, lime, jalapeno) and sauces (sriracha sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce) came with the pho. Chopsticks and soup spoons were stacked on the table. Now any pho aficionado knows that the key is the broth, which usually takes at least a day to make and consists of simmering beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, and spices including saigon cinnamon, star anise, charred ginger, cloves, and sometimes black cardamom pods. The pho broth did not disappoint at Pho 79. It was hot, fragrant and exquisitely seasoned. Not to salty, good meaty flavor and no MSG. It came strained without any added veggies like cilantro or onions. I always ask for only half as much noodles so I get more broth (and limit the carb intake). Yum. You can ask for the rare beef on a separate plate and dip it in your broth so it does not get overcooked. The duck pho broth was chicken instead of beef based. My mom liked the broth (but thought the duck was a bit tough). To me chicken broth pho is an abomination. But to each their own. All in all a very satisfying pho experience. And of course super affordable, $6 per medium bowl of pho. It almost makes you want to move back to Orange County. Almost, but not quite.