I dare say that I'm the only Forker who has tried pho since our epic Final Pho Tournament earlier this year--but the weather is about to get chilly, so I guarantee Dave, Shuji, and Edwin will slurp anew. For the rest of ustedes, here's the 10 best pho palaces in Orange County--all familiar names, but never put in a list before! Oh, app joy!
10. Pho Hien Vuong
Really put here more out of respect, as this SanTana dive was the first restaurant in Orange County to serve pho. Used to be better until new ownership decided to take that unfortunate step that many 1.5-generation Viets took a couple of years ago of pretending to use higher-quality ingredients--and charging $3 more on average. Still: gotta pay respect to the elders. And the pho still does its job.
2525 Westminster Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 554-2696
9. Kim Loan
This was the first place I ever ate pho, and this is perhaps the best place to try ur-pho, as this joint hasn't changed since the heyday of Miami Vice (the television series, not the godawful movie). Robust, massive, boiling, bueno.
1651 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-0374
8. Pho Cali
This is still one of the cheapest, biggest bowls of pho in Little Saigon, and it's one of those great places in Orange County where English is the third language spoken, as the clientele is half-Vietnamese, half-Latino. LOVE how they call pho here fideo, when fideo is more accurately vermicelli noodles. Hey, at least they don't call it sopa chinita...
120 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 531-4556
7. Pho Vinh Ky II
Home of fish pho and the awesome neon sign declaring it sells it. 'Nuf said.
14390 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-4965
6. Pho 79
Pho 79 is old-school, one of the first Vietnamese chain restaurants in the United States, with a vast selection of foods from different regions of Vietnam. And pho, of course!
Pho 79, 9941 Hazard Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 531-2490.
5. Pho 86
What sets Pho 86 apart from every other pho shop in Little Saigon is its fatty brisket (gau). Most shops serve fatty brisket cut like bacon or Korean barbecue, thin strips meant to mimic the cuts of the other meats in the broth. Here, fatty brisket comes in unapologetic cubes, which soften and mellow in the boiling broth nearly to the point of structural failure. The result is a quivering, ever-so-slightly gelatinous cube of pure beef. If I could only have one meat in pho for the rest of my life, Pho 86's gau would be it.
14576 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 839-4591
4. Pho Nguyen Hue
Probably most famous as one of the few shops that sell bull-penis pho, probably best eaten to win bets than for the taste. But they also offer a free dessert with every purchase and is one of the few places that can do chicken and beef pho equally brilliant.
10487 Bolsa Ave., Westminster; (714) 839-8916; phonhue.com.
3. Pho Dakao
The undisputed king of chicken pho in Orange County, a place that gets its chickens fresh, in a bright-yellow broth yummy with schmaltz. This is the place I frequent more than any other pho restaurant in la naranja.
15532 Ward St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-2009.
2. Pho Quang Trung
The overall master of pho: beef, chicken (symphonic, with medallions as large as scallops), even bull penis. AND dessert!
1. Pho Thanh Lich
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Two years in a row as Best Pho in our Best Of issue, the winner of the Final Pho--multiple tests don't lie. They sell cow melted into a bowl. And happy-hour pho where a massive bowl goes for three bucks? No contest.
14500 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 531-5789.