Fun, fresh, affordable pho

Pho Oxnard

722 N. Ventura Rd.

Oxnard

485- 1531

$2.95-$8.95

Possibly the trendiest food fashion today is Vietnamese pho (pronounced fa, as in fa-la-la-la-la), the traditional beef noodle soup from the Indochinese peninsula. With hints of Thai, Chinese and Malaysian flavors, Pho Oxnard is a great example of exactly how this seemingly simple dish should be prepared and served.

Now under new management and direction thanks to owner/chef Bee Nguyen, Pho Oxnard is one step ahead of its competitors by relying on clever variations on the traditional themes. While the décor is simple, the other day at lunch I opted to begin with the day’s special appetizer of grilled pork paste wrapped in rice paper, with lettuce, cucumber, carrot, daikon and mint served with a special sauce.

This rice-paper egg roll was a fascinating and tasty combination of flavors, and then all of a sudden, the textures were as well, when the next bite was really crunchy. I discovered the chef had taken a bit of the rice wrapper and loosely rolled it and then deep fried it. (It’s shape and look reminded me of a cinnamon stick.) Combine all this with the unusual (and, frankly kind of weird) sauce, and the taste was amazing and unique. The sauce consisted of shredded shrimp, egg, carrot, chili and garlic, and was probably thickened with a tapioca starch. Actually, for a topping, I preferred the spicy homemade chili and garlic sauce in the condiment tray that graces each table. But all told, this was a great way to bring my palate into readiness for the steaming bowl of pho that followed.

That day, the pho choice for me was pho ba, the beef noodle broth, this time enhanced by a generous dollop of sliced, grilled and boiled filet mignon and many slices of ginger.  Customary pho has strips of round steak, well-done flank, brisket, soft tendon and bible tripe (pho dac biet). The filet mignon was so tender and juicy, and the very rich flavor of the broth was enlightened by the special cut of meat and the rich ginger tang. And at $6.55 for the small bowl, this is one of the best values in Ventura County.  

Each beef pho at Pho Oxnard utilizes the very rich broth, and the care in its preparation is evident from the oily marrow residue throughout the broth’s silky texture. On another visit, I opted for the pho ga, the chicken version, and the same care in preparation was evident in the chicken broth as well. The many bits of shredded chicken with the fresh flattened rice noodle (reminding me of a thin fettuccine) made this particular pho a hearty Asian version of Mom’s health-enhancing chicken soup.

None of these pho dishes puts any sort of dent in even the most modest of food budgets.  Nothing on the menu is more than $8.95, and most appetizers are only $2.95.  For me, one of the best parts of Vietnamese cuisine is the ability in the beverage selection to add boba, large boiled pearl-sized beads of black tapioca, which give the orangy sweet Thai tea a dazzling flavor; the same with the green tea smoothie, which is basically green tea ice cream, half-and-half and lots of boba settled on the bottom.

Another great aspect of pho dining is the ability to alter the flavor of your selection with the addition of condiments provided. Each pho bowl is served with a plate of bean sprouts, fresh basil leaves, cilantro, spicy green chili and a wedge of lime. Add to that your choice of either the previously mentioned red chili and garlic paste, or the sweeter brown sauce (probably from plums, chilies and a bit of hoisiu sauce), and, of course, at each table is a bottle of the fiery sriracha sauce, which has become as prevalent on Asian tables as is ketchup on the American table. The basil, by the way, is the Thai variety with long slender leaves and a slightly anise aftertaste, which adds an exotic element to whichever bowl of pho you select. And always remember to squeeze a bit of the lime into your pho: the citrusy tartness of the lime and the deep rich flavor of the bouillon make for a most satisfying taste sensation for each bowl of pho.

One afternoon I noticed Chef Bee going through a very large bag of basil, from which she was shaping and trimming each stem before eventual delivery to each table in the restaurant. The care of selection and thedesire for aesthetically pleasing (as well as phenomenally delicious) condiments is evident in each dish at Pho Oxnard, and for my money and palate, this unpretentious restaurant is one of the best little finds in the county.       

jrgrantfoodie@gmail.com