Golden Deli has been the default Vietnamese noodleshop in the San Gabriel Valley for a couple of generations now, a cramped, eternally crowded storefront where the pho, and especially the fried springrolls called cha gio, have always been worth the discomfort -- and the menus, worn to the softness of velvet, that seemed almost infinitely complex. I'd always expected that the restaurant served four things with a lot of minor variations, but I've been locked in to my same basic order since Reagan was in the White House, and I'm not about to change in the name of science.
But now comes the second Golden Deli, in a modern new space on the Temple City bridal boutique strip, with a glassed-in open kitchen, nice chairs -- and an ordering system taken straight from Chipotle, so that you stand in line, customize your pho from a menu of options, and take a number with you when you sit down.
When the menu is rendered as a wall graphic, it does turn out that there are just a few basic options, along with the choice of including rare beef, tendon or tripe, meatballs or brisket or all of the above, and the broken-rice, hu tieu noodle, and dry noodle options are just as easy to navigate. It's as if I'd been looking all these years at a menu saying something like hot dog with ketchup, hot dog with mustard, hot dog with relish, hot dog with mustard and relish.
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The plates are nicer, and the chicken curry with baguette is first rate, but the new Golden Deli may be a tick or two less polished than the original. Do I believe this because the new slogan is apparently "Pho on the Go,'' which doesn't even rhyme? I wouldn't be that petty.