The more phô the merrier
Phô Oxnard opens Love
By JR Grant 03/28/2013
Love Phô N’ Mor
341 Arneil Road
When I first went to Phô Oxnard in January of 2010, I was very, very happy with the new management and chef’s authentic take on traditional Vietnamese comfort food. It wasn’t a fancy place, was very affordable, and the fresh ingredients were superlative. Early in the fall last year, they opened a sister restaurant in Camarillo called Love Phô N’ Mor, and I was eager to see if the duplication was an equally enjoyable dining experience. Alas, my first several visits were not really up to par. Service was spotty, broths in the phô were tasty, but sometimes the meat was chewy. Good, just not memorable or worthy of a return.
Finally, it seems as if Love Phô N’ Mor has worked out its opening kinks, and is now the good go-to phô location in Camarillo. For some diners the location will be unappealing (it is near the 99 Cent Store strip mall off Arneil Road). The décor and interior, however, are a big step above the mall’s other tenants, and the food is now on par with its sister restaurant in Oxnard. In fact, servicewise, Camarillo far and away outshines its Oxnard companion.
At lunch the other day, I was in a bit of a hurry and ordered the phô dac biet, which is the house special beef broth with eye of brisket, well-done flank, soft tender bible tripe, and beef meatballs. Rather than just rice noodles I asked for half rice/half egg noodles. The phô arrived very quickly, very hot and richly flavorful, just as I had hoped it would be when it first opened. All the fresh basil, mint, cilantro and the flavorful sauces and chilies are available; if they are not brought to the table, don’t think you are being given bad service. Sometimes in Vietnamese restaurants the service varies from over-hovering to seeming inattention. The servers are very happy to provide and accommodate whatever garnishes you would like served with your meal.
I also ordered the tapioca milk tea, which is basically a sweet, cold milky tea with boba, small marble-sized tapioca pearls made from the starch of the cassava root. It is an acquired taste (the texture is that of very squishy gummi bears), but once you acquire it, you will seek it out wherever you find it on a Vietnamese menu. Some of my Vietnamese friends in Ventura County believe Pho Oxnard and Love Phô N’ Mor have far and away the best boba in the area.
One of my favorite soups at this restaurant is the mŷ Tho, which is in a chicken broth with shrimp, barbecue pork and quail eggs. Again, the boiled quail eggs are an acquired taste, being soft and chewy rather than ordinary hard-boiled-egg-seeming and -tasting. But this is a very light yet filling phô, and phenomenally reasonable at only $6.25.
Vegetarians have a bit of a difficult time at Love Phô N’ Mor, due to the broths generally being beef-, chicken- or fish-based. There are, however, two dishes I’ve recommended to vegetarian friends and they were not disappointed. Both are found on the appetizer menu: the grilled tofu with homemade soy sauce is particularly notable, and the winter rolls, which are tofu wrapped in rice paper, with lettuce and vermicelli, dipped in a peanut sauce, make for a good starter course.
For the less adventurous, there are a number of Vietnamese/Chinese offerings like fried won tons and combination fried rice, but the menu is so vast and interesting that it is well worth breaking out of a “same old same old” dining routine. A Vietnamese friend of mine agrees that Love Phô N’ Mor is authentic, although she does feel the bánh x o (a Vietnamese pan-fried rice-flour crepe flavored with coconut milk, shrimp, bean sprouts and green onion, and sweetened fish sauce) is far too much like an American pancake rather than a French crepe. To me, it is a delicious counterbalance to the heartiness of the Phô. If you are in Camarillo and need a phô fix, this is definitely the go-to place.