Pho Lu & Pho Quang Trung (Late Night OC Dining)
When my kids were on spring break last month, we decided to spend a few days down in Anaheim to visit the Happiest Place on Earth. Since that puts me within minutes of Little Saigon, I started planning where I could go after the kids were asleep. I was particularly interested in the quán nhậu (watering holes that also serves food) that SinoSoul recommended. Most were open until 11 PM, and I thought I’d have plenty of time to make it there after the kids were in bed. Alas, the gravity of the Mouse Trap meant we never made it back to the hotel until after 10 PM, and by the time everyone settled in, it was too late to hit those Vietnamese bar/lounge/gastropub (don’t roll your eyes too hard at that last one, Tony).
I was, however, able to partake in a few perveyors of phở, that perfect, fragrant bowl of rice noodles that’s been so elusive on the Westside of L.A. Thanks to my new friend Natalie, I made my way to Phở Lú (Yelp) one late night and Phở Quang Trung 2 the next night, both open until at least midnight.
At Phở Lú, Natalie recommended phở đuôi bò (oxtail). I happily took her advice, as I am a fan of oxtail. The phở is served in two bowls, one containing the noodles, and the other containing the oxtail. The broths are different in each bowl, with a very clean consommé in the noodle bowl, and a still relatively clean but more beefy stock in the oxtail bowl. I dug into both bowls.
I had expected the oxtail meat to be more rich and tender, with a fattiness that’s usually found with oxtail. Instead, the meat was a little tough and not at all fatty, like the fat had all dissolved into the stock while cooking. It’s how I’d assume boiling, rather than braising, oxtail would turn out. Still very delicious, and the broth had a little of the unctuousness that the meat itself lacked.
I really enjoyed alternating between the bowls. The noodle broth not only looked clean, it tasted clean. It was probably one of the most refined broths I can remember tasting. Unfortunately, the rice noodles were stiff and all clumped together at first. I let it sit for a few minutes, and the noodles separated nicely on their own. Phở aficionados, is that how it should be? It seems to be a common occurrence even at quality phở establishments, in my limited experience.
Overall, while it wasn’t exactly what I expected, I still really enjoyed my first bowl of phở đuôi bò. When I left, I ordered some gỏi cuốn tôm (Vietnamese spring/summer/salad rolls with shrimp) to go for my wife. It, of course, beat any similar kind of rolls on the Westside of L.A. I really liked that the Thai basil was really prominent in the taste.
At Phở Quang Trung, again I took Natalie’s recommendation and ordered the phở gà (chicken), with liver and gizzard; I even got a side order of chicken hearts.
The first thing I noticed about this bowl of phở was that the noodles were perfect right out of the gate. I didn’t have to wait for them to loosen up first, and the consistency held up the entire time I was eating them. The second thing I noticed was how amazing the chicken tasted. It was salty and tender and just so… chicken-y! I generally prefer beef over chicken, and so I had never had phở gà until this bowl, and I have to say this was one of the best bowls of phở I’d ever eaten!
Since it was our last night in the OC, I went a little crazy and ordered a bowl of cháo lòng heo (rice porridge with pig offal) too. I’ve had this at various places over the years, and usually the liver is really tough and dry, despite being in the porridge. I figure the liver’s not cooked with the cháo, as it’d fall apart, but I’m guessing most places pre-slice the liver, causing it to dry out? The liver in this bowl of cháo was moist and tender, and the other bits of offal–tongue, intestine, stomach–were all really good too!
The cháo lòng heo also had Vietnamese blood sausage (either dồi tiết or dồi huyết, for Northern or Southern Vietnam, respectively), which I hadn’t had before. Personally I like unadulterated blood cubes better, but I always welcome the chance to try another variation on black pudding, boudin, blutwurst, morcilla, soondae, etc.
Once again, at the end of the meal I got an order of gỏi cuốn tôm to go for my wife. I think I prefer Phở Lu’s rolls, but I like this place’s peanut sauce better. By the way, is peanut sauce tương đậu phộng or nước lèo in Vietnamese? I’ve seen both.
I consider my late night Little Saigon outings to be a success. Thanks again Natalie for your recs! I’m actually craving the phở gà now. Traffic from the Westside to OC isn’t that bad at 11 PM on a Friday night, right? ;-)
Phở Lú (Yelp)
10141 Westminster Ave Ste 5
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Phở Quang Trung 2
9211 Bolsa Ave Suite 101-103