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.