Noodles and Broth Warm Your Belly and Nurture Your Soul
By Michael Baehr, Clairemont Chowhound
At the height of May gray and June gloom, nothing is more satisfying on a chilly, overcast evening than a hearty bowl of noodle soup. Over that past year, I watched with anticipation as Pho Hut & Grill was completed and opened its doors. Now open for eight months, this Chowhound was ready to try a bowl of noodle goodness!
This quaint little restaurant is located on Balboa Avenue in the Rite Aid shopping center. It is clean and nicely decorated, with tables and chairs scattered around the dining area and a few banquettes lining the walls. We were warmly greeted and escorted to our table. As this was our first time, our server recommended we try the most popular items: fried egg rolls and pho of any variety.
For our meal, we ordered the fried pork egg rolls ($5.75) and a small bowl of the rare steak/well done steak pho ($6.95). Bowls of pho come in two sizes: small and large. The small size was more than enough food to satisfy this hungry Chowhound! Since I was dragging, I also ordered a sweet and tangy Thai Tea ($3.95). A more intense Vietnamese coffee is also available ($3.95) if you want the complete Vietnamese experience. For those of you who are less familiar with this type of restaurant, allow me to share what I have learned about pho: First and foremost, the name, pho is pronounced ‘fuh’ not ‘of’ as you might be inclined to say. Pho originated in Vietnam in the 1800s and is heavily influenced by Chinese and French cooking. Rice noodles and spices were imported from China and the French popularized the addition of red meat. In fact, it is believed that pho is derived from the dish “pot au feu,” a French soup. Vietnamese cooks blended the Chinese, French and native influences to make a dish that is uniquely Vietnamese. Pho refers to the noodles — flat, long rice noodles — not the soup itself, although it is commonly associated with the dish as a unit.
Within minutes, four egg rolls arrived piping hot and served with large lettuce leafs, sprigs of mint and a small bowl of vinegar dressing. The egg rolls were crispy and delicious, filled with pork, noodles, wood ear mushrooms, jicama, taro and carrots. Our server suggested that we wrap the egg roll in a lettuce leaf and a sprig of mint, and then dip it in the vinegar sauce. A good suggestion indeed—it was a bite of fresh, crunchy heaven!
Our bowl of pho arrived along with the traditional accompaniments of bean sprouts, lime wedges, mint and sliced jalapenos. Experienced pho eaters rip up the herbs and sprinkle them into the broth, as opposed to submerging the entire leaf. This brings out the aromatic magic of the herbs.
The pho was steaming hot and delicious, served with cilantro and thinly sliced pieces of beef atop a mound of shimmering glass noodles submerged in broth. I was concerned the rare steak would be too rare or uncooked for my liking, but the heat of the broth cooks the thin slices of beef to tender perfection. The combination of salty broth, hearty noodles and aromatic cilantro was simultaneously rich and fresh.
Seriously, one bowl of pho paired with the egg rolls and rich Thai iced tea was more than enough to satisfy this hungry Chowhound. There are many more tempting dishes on the menu at Pho Hut & Grill, including some incredible-looking fried rice dishes, stir fry, salads and plenty of veggie dishes. With more to try, I know where I’ll be going when my soul needs some TLC.
Pho Hut & Grill
5252 Balboa Avenue
(Balboa and Genesee next to Rite Aid)
San Diego, CA 92117