So … do you know pho’? Or how to pronounce it? It sounds like “fuh?” and you must raise your voice at the end, as if asking a question.
Pho’, is a Vietnamese beef bone broth served with noodles, meat, vegetables and herbs. Some attribute healing properties to it, saying it cures everything from the flu to hangovers. I had a fantasy of doing a review where I took three of my ailing friends to eat pho’, (while wearing a surgical mask of course), to see if I could witness a miracle, but germophobia got the best of me.
Pho’ Sô’ 1 is the sixth restaurant of its kind. If you Google “Pho So 1 Van Nuys,” you will see passionate discussions about how the pho’ at their sister restaurant rates. Now Oxnard will join the debate.
The restaurant is at the corner of Saviers and Wolff, in the back corner of a shopping center next to La Vero’s Mexican Food and Beer. Incredibly delicious hamburger smells wafted from somewhere as we neared the door.
Palomino-hued booths lined the sidewalls. Manic Christmas songs played over the speakers, and a cacophony of clinging glassware and silverware being sorted reverberated off the walls. There was no silverware on the table, only paper-sheathed chopsticks, a napkin dispenser, soupspoons and condiments. The patrons were all Vietnamese — a fortuitous sign.
The menu is huge. Other than the 25 kinds of pho’ there were rice, pork noodle, egg noodle and duck soups. There were 16 noodle dishes, 35 rice dishes, 12 specialties (including fondue) and 15 desserts.
We ordered the spring rolls to take the edge off while we studied the menu. The three rice paper wrapped rolls were artistically presented with a green onion spear sticking out of one end. Accompanying them was a thick peanut sauce.
The rolls contained boiled shrimp, sliced pork, vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, lettuce and hints of mint. They were fresh, crunchy and unseasoned. But as my friend Elaine pointed out, “Vietnamese food is all about the sauce and the broths.”
I had a hard time choosing my entrée and, sadly, the more I attempted to clarify descriptions with our sweet, attentive waiter, the more confused I became. I’d finally settled into the idea of pho’ until a waiter walked past me with a dish that looked so good, I couldn’t resist. I ordered the Bún Nem Nuóng Thit Heo (Bo) Nuóng and Elaine chose the Bún Tom Chà Gio.
The dishes took less than 10 minutes to arrive. Our entrees were prodigious bowls of vermicelli noodles, lettuce, cucumbers and bean sprouts, carrot sticks and picked daikon.
My Bún featured pork balls and grilled beef, and Elaine’s had crosscut slices of egg roll and shrimp. Each came with a bowl of dipping sauce, a sweet dip with the slight aftertaste of fish sauce.
My beef was thinly sliced, with distinct grill marks and a deep charred flavor. Elaine’s shrimp were also charred. We both liked the blackened flavor with the light rice noodles, crunchy vegetables and sweet sauce.
The dense, pink textured slices of my pork balls challenged me. Once I moved beyond my trepidation, I was treated to a sweet, salty, garlicky flavor explosion.
I was surprised just how much I coveted Elaine’s crunchy egg roll. I didn’t realize it would come sliced on top of the noodles, nor did I know how complementary they would be with her dish.
“Something just told me to get the egg rolls,” she said. I was not surprised she’d ferreted out the winning dish, she almost always does. If she were a superhero, choosing the best dishes off an unknown menu would be her special power.
There are exotic dessert shakes to try like avocado, jackfruit or durian fruit, and if you are looking for a caffeinated jolt, try the thick, rich, filtered coffee in the tiny French press.
I will return to try their pho’ and join the heated debate. Perhaps I’ll check in with Super Elaine before I place my order.