QUESTION: I moved to L.A. last summer, and despite the wealth of Asian restaurants in town, I can’t seem to find a good Vietnamese place. I’m looking for authentic pho, not Korean-ized pho (which I’ve had and thought was terrible). I’m hoping to save myself a trip to Westminster.
—Cindy Fang, Los Angeles
ANSWER: I feel your pain. Koreatown pho parlors have the advantage of being open 24/7, the most famous of them anyway, but the noodles seem always to be adjusted to the Korean taste, which is to say bland, thick and bony, at least until you load them up with condiments. I’ve always suspected that Koreans conceive of pho as a jazzier version of sullongtang, a soothing, unseasoned broth so bone-intensive that it is practically incandescent in its whiteness. It is an aesthetic, admittedly, but not necessarily one I share.
When the pho bug strikes, my truck practically drives itself to Golden Deli, on Las Tunas in San Gabriel, where the noodles are soft and luscious, the frilly accompanying ruffles of tripe cooked to a satisfying chaw, and the seasoning of the broth is perfectly balanced between meat, clove and cinnamon. (Plus, they have the best fried cha gio, spring rolls, in the Western world.) But I have been really, really happy over the last 15 years with the pho at the Chinatown branch of Pho 79 — the noodles tend to be a little on the chewy side, but the garnish of tendon is boiled into luscious submission, the rare sliced beef has a delicious bloody tang, the table salad includes half a dozen fresh herbs, and the peppery broth is good enough to drown yourself in. Westminster, schmestminster. 727 N. Broadway, Chinatown, (213) 625-7026.
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