Pho is the first Vietnamese food to go mainstream. Name recognition isn’t anywhere near that of chow mein or pad Thai, but it’s become increasingly common for the average bear to have heard of this broth and noodle combo, which is definitely progress.
Unlike Pinkberry, the popularity of pho across the land is totally justified. Every noodle shop that I’ve eaten at since my return to the States has been packed to capacity and filled with faces of all different races—it’s a beautiful thing to see. It used to be that non-Asians were always accompanied by an Asian friend or significant other when dining at an Asian eatery, especially one located within an Asian enclave. However, these days I see non-Asians dining without a “guide” more often than not. Although this bodes well for businesses, a diverse clientele makes it impossible to pick restaurants based purely on who dines there—gone are the days of “If all the Chinese are eating here than it must be good!” logic. Well, at least that’s the case in So Cal.
During orientation at Caltech, The Astronomer met a fellow grad student from Korea named Kunwoo. Upon hearing that The Astronomer spent the previous year living in Vietnam, Kunwoo proclaimed that he loved pho, and would love to go out for a bowl sometime. A few days later, a group of four Cal Tech boys and I hopped in Kunwoo’s ride and drove to nearby Alhambra for pho. Kunwoo has eaten at Pho 79 numerous times and spoke highly of the place.
I ordered my favorite combination of pho tai (rare beef) nam (cooked beef brisket) sach (tripe) ($4.95), while The Astronomer, Khoa and Kunwoo ordered pho xe lua ($5.95)—a “train-sized” bowl with all the trimmings. Both bowls of pho more or less looked the same, although the train-sized bowl is substantially larger than a regular one, so I didn’t bother taking happy snaps of their loot. It’s a good thing that the folks at Pho 79 aren’t skimpy with their herbs because our table was packed with seasoned ganishers. Pass the lime wedges, please.
Here’s a close-up of my favorite trimming—tripe! I was very satisfied with my bowl of pho; the portion wasn’t overwhelming and neither was the price. The meat, noodles and broth were flavorful and clearly made with love. With pho in the equation, dining with a group of scientists has never been more delicious.
29 S. Garfield Avenue
Alhambra, CA 91801