[Local Love] LA’s Best Pho

According to my family, my desire for strange food was indirectly proportional to my understanding of what I was eating.   There are tales they’re all too fond of telling: me running around saying ‘Hi!’ to everyone in the restaurant, converting my chopsticks into drum sticks and becoming a rock chick and last but not least, there’s me being enthralled by strange and squishy foods. Squid used to be one of my favorite foods and as of 2014, unless it’s Calamari I really would prefer it to get away from my mouth; sushi too, though – over time I’ve managed to shed those bad thoughts and feast my heart out fish.  One thing that definitely hasn’t changed though, is my love for all types of Asian cuisine – traditional Japanese sushi (none of those weird rolls, please and thanks), Dim Sum and Thai curries are some of my absolute favorite dishes and the Bay Area was the perfect melting pot for each of the above dishes.  Unfortunately for my pallet and appetite, one dish that I didn’t get into until I moved to Los Angeles was Pho.

When I moved into my last house in LA, my roommate wanted to take me out for food one obnoxiously frigid evening; I was in the mood for a hearty soup that took away my head cold an she told me she had just the fix.  As we fidgeted our way into her car, I asked where we were going – and with an ear-to-ear grin, she replied ‘Pho! It’s the best!’  Now, first of all – as a basic rule – if I can’t pronounce it, I probably don’t want it.  Over the last decade, I’ve mastered ordering Sushi in broken Japanese and it’s become a sort of silly point of pride.  So, when I questioned back ‘Pho?!’ (pronounced ‘/fə/‘), I’m pretty sure I butchered it beyond belief.  As I’ve become accustomed to putting it in my stomach, I’ve also gotten a little better at saying it.  Plus, the plethora of places that use Pho as a play on words doesn’t exactly hurt either; between places like 9021-Pho and Absolutely Pho-bulous, I’m pretty sure I’ve got it own.

There’s something to be said for warm, hearty comfort food – and Pho falls smack dab at the top of that category.  Made from thin, Vermicelli rice noodles and a rich broth full of sorted herbs, beansprouts and thinly sliced meat – Pho has skyrocketed from an unknown quantity to my go-to meal.   One of the great – and not so great – things about LA is that there’s a lot of everything; meaning (a) that every craving you have can be satiated and (b) that more likely than not you’ll be absolutely overwhelmed by the variety of choices like I was.  Thankfully, with the help of Yelp and a few friends who share similar meal cravings, I’ve crafted a list of my favorite Pho joints in town and I can’t wait to share!

Via Cafe in Chinatown, Tues-Sun 11-10pm

Located in the heart of Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles, Via Cafe boasts ample seating, quick service and a stellar beer menu with traditional Vietnamese cuisine.  As an app, I suggest the Summer Rolls are scrumptious and come with a delicious peanut sauce; for your main, you can’t go wrong with the Rare Steak Combo but if you’re in the mood for something mouthwatering, the Minced Rare Filet Mignon with Thin Rice Noodles is the way to go.  If by some strange stroke of luck you have room for dessert, dive in – you’ll thank me later!

Blossom Vietnamese Restaurant in Silver Lake, Mon-Sun 12-4, 5:30-11

Having a Pho craving on a Sunday night at 10pm used to be an issue – until I met Blossom Vietnamese Restaurant.  Situated in Silver Lake, Blossom is open until 11pm seven days a week and have more bottles of wine than you can bat an eye at.  My first takeaway was that the venue was deceptively large – from the second we walked in, we were whisked away into an intimate downstairs area, completely hidden from the outside.  We were both seated and served promptly, and within minutes I had some of the best Beef rolls I’ve had the pleasure of eating sitting in front of me.  Per usual, I went with the Rare Steak Pho and attempted to finish it all (much to the dismay of my stomach).  Sadly, there are only dessert wines and no real dessert but you can’t win’em all, right?  With the rich flavors of the Pho, I doubt there was any way I could’ve fit more into my stomach but lord knows with that track record I would have tried.

PHONOMENAL in West Hollywood, Mon to Sun 12-10pm

Looking for Pho near Downtown where Chinatown and Thai town sit is one the easier side of things in LA, but what about further West?  Don’t worry – Phonomenal’s got you covered.  I came in thinking it was actually a different restaurant with an equally silly play on words (Absolutely Phobulous), but couldn’t have been happier at what I found.  Phonomenal has an adorable, tranquil and dimly lit outdoors area – perfect for date nights; and to boot, if you don’t want to eat in, they have an incredibly quick turnaround for takeout orders.  I recommend their Summer rolls and (you guessed it) the Rare Steak combination bowl.  For kicks, I suggest a Buddha beer – they’re so tasty!

Gigo’s in Chinatown, Mon to Sun 9 to 7pm

Family owned and run, Gigo’s has a long standing history in Downtown of churning out some of the tastiest (and most affordable!) Pho.  Located just around the corner from Via Cafe, the Pho at Gigo’s is flavorful and almost doesn’t need the accompanying Siracha or Hoisin sauce. Gigo’s Cafe is a cash only venture and doesn’t serve beer, but with the assorted bars in the area – the drinks aren’t too necessary.   The venue itself seats approximately 30 people and depending on the time of day you got your hunger pains, the line could very well be out the door.

[The Kitchen Kitten] Walnut + Blue Cheese Salad

I almost fell off the bed this morning when I saw that it was December 17th; no, time did not stop for me on my 29th birthday and yes, I’ve been paying attention as the days pass – but the month is halfway over and I can almost count the day to 2014 on my fingers.  Man, oh man – it’ almost that time of year.  At the office, it means the first quarter of the fiscal year and the directors are making sure that all of our ducks are in a row, crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s.

But, on a more personal level – it’s almost the holidays, meaning whatever free time I thought I had will be gloriously overrun by family, friends and festive celebrations – three of my favorite F words, believe you me! However, since there are only 24 hour in a day and I’m always trying to cram three too many things into it, the one area of my life that I almost ignore when I’m busy is my appetite.   And take it from a Pro, that can throw your whole day in a downward spiral if you don’t tackle it in time.

Good new is that I’ve found the perfect, quick and easy fix – in the form of a salad!  I know what you’re thinking – silly rabbit, tricks are for kids!  True – but this tried and true meal can range anywhere from an appetizer salad to a full meal depending on how stacked you’re willing to make it.  One of the best things about salads – minimal prep-time.  Simply stock the fridge with your favorite dressing, fresh veggies and  then toss some arugula, red leaf lettuce or one of those convenient pounce of mixed green and your kitchen will always be prepared.

Before we go to the next step, expand your mind a bit about what can go into a salad.  Since cucumber, tomato and avocado are all fruits, why not toss in some slices of mandarin for a splash of citrus? Why not shred some of your favorite meats and cheeses for a boost of added protein, or add some nuts?  The possibilities are endless if you put your mind to it! The salad below is what I like to think of as a ‘next level’-salad – you have the incredible, savory flavor of the blue cheese melding with the sweet, smokiness of the candied walnuts, then the complementary cold and refreshing flavors of cucumber and beets leaves the pallet wanting more.  And trust me on that last part – I make this salad at least twice a week now! Now, onto the good stuff.

Tools:

  • 2 bowls – 1 large, 1 medium / small
  • cutting board
  • sharp knife
  • cucumber peeler 
  • muddler (or, object with a blunt end)
  • salad tongs (optional)

Ingredients for 2:

  • 1 cup Baby Arugula (or greenery of choice)
  • 4 oz Blue Cheese Crumbles (If the taste is a little much, try Goat Cheese or Feta)
  • 6 oz Candied Walnuts (chopped or smashed)
  • 1/3 Cucumber
  • Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing (or whatever your pleasure may be)
  • 6 oz cold Beets
  • Last, but not least – beats: I’ve really been digging on Emancipator lately – it’ perfect  stop-and-smell-those-roses type of music.

Optional: Upgrade yo’self, because you’re a boss like that:

  • Fresh Baby Shrimp ( .5 lb)
  • Granny Smith Apples (1 diced)
  • Prosciutto (4 slices)
  • Ground Pepper + salt (Tsp each)
  • Cherry Tomatoes (10-15)
  • Scallion slices (enough for flavor; to each their own)

The Basics: Mixed greens, beet, cucumber, blue cheese, candied walnut and Goddess dressing

 

Now, let’s get down to brass tax – and it’s incredibly simple:

  1. Wash your lettuce / arugula / whatever greens you selected and tear them into edible morsels, toss into large bowl and set aside
  2. Peel and chop the cucumber and beets (and other juicy veggies), throw into large bowl with greens and mix well
  3. In a small bowl, take your candied walnuts and your muddler and get your smash on until the pieces have become about a quarter the original size
  4. separate the blue cheese crumbles in your hand a bit and toss in with the walnuts
  5. Load the large bowl with dressing, toss for a bit then throw in the content of the small bowl

Voila – your ten minute meal is le served!

[Food Porn] San Francisco v1

To me, there’s nothing quite  refreshing as going back home and visiting family; it gets my head right and puts my heart in check.  From roaming the streets of Chinatown to watching the Mountain Dew Skateboarding Tour  to going out and dancing the night away at Ruby Skye with my favorites, San Francisco has a little something to do – and eat – for everyone.  One of my dad’s favorite things to do while I’m home is find new and exciting places to eat. According to him, I used to have quite the adventurous appetite but somehow as I grew older I started getting picky – it’s gotten to the point that most of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles know what my usual‘ is.  So, much to my father’s delight I let him make most, if not all, of the food decisions over the weekend and my stomach couldn’t be happier.

Friday was the first full day I was in the city – granted, it was a little tainted by the fact I had to do some work from the apartment, but no matter – the simple fact that I essentially can work from anywhere is fabulous!  For lunch, I visited him at work in the Symantec headquarters so I could finally meet his lovely coworkers, and then we ventured off to find our lunch!  We bounced a few ideas around, but once we walked past Osha Thai our decision was made.  The best part about Osha, besides how amazing the food is, is there are a few different locations in the city – so wherever you happen to be, you won’t have to venture far to get that yummy Thai food in your belly.

We started off with some delicious drinks – my dad got a Thai Iced Coffee while I sipped on a Green Tea Mojito, super refreshing – and appetizers.  There are a few Thai places in LA that pride themselves on their Duck Spring Rolls so it’s a good point of comparison – and oh my wow, they were amazing! I would’ve taken a picture but we ate them too damn fast.  For our main course we split a steak salad and dug into some of the best massumun lamb curry ever.

Massumun Lamb Curry from Osha Thai

Bummer and Lazarus: Tequila, Ginger Beer, Cucumber, Chilies

There’s a bit of a food tradition my dad and I have when we visit each other; it’s 5 letters long and is the best thing ever…if you guessed sushi, you’d be correct!  Literally every time we get together, we collectively crave it.  So this time, I let him to the picking and choosing of where to go – there are so many good sushi places in SF that you really can’t go wrong.  This time, the choice was Ame at the St. Regis Hotel.  Now, we’d gone under the premise that this fusion Japanese food was going to be sushi – well, (a) wrong and (b) I’ve never been so happy about my dad being wrong, ever!  First of all, Ame is one of the only Asian influenced Michelin rated restaurants in San Francisco – and their modern American take on cultural Japanese food is mouthwatering.

I started off with a Bummer and Lazarus, a signature drink from their incredibly extensive cocktail menu; they literally have a drink for everyone – beer, sake, wine, mocktails – you name it and they have it. We split a few appetizers but they were a little on the small side and between all of our appetites they went very fast.  Next up was the main course – I was pretty overwhelmed by the menu and there wasn’t any sushi per-say, so thank goodness they have a ‘Taste of Ame’ sashimi plate that comes with lots of delectable goodies like a sunomono salad with uni.  I’m not exactly a sashimi fan, but after eating here I might become one!

Taste of Ame Sashimi Plate

I was beyond stuffed after my entree, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try their beer donuts, if the establishment wasn’t so damn posh I’d suggest calling it the Homer Simpson because it essentially combines his two favorite things.  The donuts came with some of the richest chocolate sauce I’ve ever had covering the entire plate and a healthy chunk of Stout Ice Cream in the center. Omnom…

Beer Donuts with Chocolate Sauce and Stout Ice Cream

When we woke up Saturday morning we were all still full from dinner the night before so my step-mother and I took an adventure out to Chinatown during the day to get our walk and talk on.  After a few hours strolling around, I got a huge craving for BBQ Pork Buns – and I was definitely in the perfect location to fulfill it.  We walked for literally a minute and stumbled into Gourmet Kitchen to snag a few and I basically devoured them like it was my job.

BBQ Pork Buns

It’s always bittersweet to say goodbye to my family and the city that I love, but doing it over a great brunch at Prospect makes it so much easier. I usually go for the Eggs Benedict, but I was in the mood for something different and hearty – making the Prospector a shoe-in.  Bacon, eggs, potatoes, sausage and corncakes – such the well rounded American breakfast, but get anything at Prospect and you literally can’t go wrong.  Beyond making a great breakfast, it was also delicious as leftovers when I got back to Los Angeles that night.

The Prospector