Question: For years, I’ve been going to the Vietnamese noodle shop Pho 79, in the mall right behind Ocean Seafood. Now, all of a sudden, the restaurant is called Pho 97, although they still have the same pictures on the walls, the same reviews in the window, everything. What gives? Are they trying to put one over on us?
Answer: There were years when I probably went to Pho 79 more than any other restaurant, once or twice a week at least. I had tasted pho before, of course, but the broth in Pho 79’s pho dac biet was unusually limpid, as intricately spiced as most examples of the breed but with the fragrance of cloves rising a little higher than the cinnamon, and I loved the aesthetic of soft noodles, well-cooked brisket and tendon boiled down to jelly. There was always an abundance of herbs in the table salad, the dipping sauces were always fresh and pungent, and the supple goi cuon, fresh spring rolls stuffed with shrimp, grilled pork and rice vermicelli, were by far the best in town. I know from Pho 79.
When I stopped by Pho 97 for lunch last week, I recognized practically everybody in the restaurant, from the guy who greeted me at the door to the guy who bused the dishes. The semiclassical piano music was identical. The family who own the restaurant apparently passed it down to a younger generation, and it is no longer affiliated with the Pho 79 chain.
If you frequent some of the newer Vietnamese joints in the San Gabriel Valley, you will have experienced better spring rolls, better imperial rolls and more amply stocked herb salads. But the pho dac biet, the eternal No. 1 on Vietnamese menus everywhere, is still the same, still my favorite, right down to the slightly overcooked rice noodles and the bone-intensive, spicy funkiness of the broth. I swear, I could pick that pho out of a police lineup every time. 727 Broadway, Suite 120, Chinatown. (213) 625-7026.
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