Photo by Jeanne RiceSoup for breakfast? ¿Porqué no? Among Vietnam and Mexico's many other sociocultural similarities (both screwed by Catholic colonizers, U.S. imperialism and apartment mogul George Argyros), both nations have produced a morning soup that makes cereal apparent for what it is (wet grains, man!) and can smack you out of a stupor. Vietnam's pho and Mexico's pozole are simple to prepare and bland when first served.
If you have the stomach and the time, visit in a single morning El Camino Real for pozole and Kim Loan Restaurant for pho in Fullerton. Only five minutes apart, each is excellent in representing the sunrise soups of their native countries.
Pho is nothing more than boiling flavored water, a giant ball of noodles, and your choice of meat. Pozole is even less complex, consisting solely of hominy (big-kerneled maize) and a chile broth. It's served as part of El Camino's menudo, but you can order your pozole without meat if the Mexican version of haggis—that is, offal—isn't your idea of a breakfast date. There's only one trick in preparing pozole: the broth must be cooked with near-scientific precision or else it will taste burned—even if it isn't.
Because of the craft that is pozole making and the hungry lines that form every weekend morning around El Camino, service is not fast, but the results are remarkable. Kim Loan's service, meanwhile, is so fast that your pho is ready in about two minutes, despite the fact that the place is usually filled to capacity.
Both soups are as exciting as Christopher Cox if eaten as served, so vegetation and spices must be added to give them that addicting kick that will make you lick your bowl. Kim Loan's pho comes with a mountain of bean sprouts, a forest of mint leaves, a bit of lemon, and a couple of bell peppers. The resulting mixture turns what was once a dull dish into a watery surprise.
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El Camino's pozole plants are repollo (cabbage), cilantro and oregano. Put the oregano in your hand and rub it over the soup—it makes for a more aromatic dish. Pozole should also be sprinkled with lemon and—if you want that satisfying early morning tongue burn—chile serranos. The result is a slightly spicy, ambrosial experience. You can add hot sauce to both soups, and each restaurant has its respective culture's ubiquitous brand—Tapatio for Mexicans, Sriracha for Vietnamese.
Side dishes are a must with both soups. Order the goi cuon (pork and shrimp rolls) at Kim Loan as the perfect companion to pho. Kim Loan gives you two choices for dipping sauce: lemon-tinted butter or a funky peanut sauce sweeter than honey. Go for the latter, and be prepared to get messy. Pozole, meanwhile, should be eaten only with tostadas or tortillas—nothing close to the elegance of goi cuon but perfect for scooping up single kernels. You can conceivably order other appetizers with your pozole, but then you'd be paying extra; the tortillas and/or tostadas are free.
Each restaurant has other succulent offerings, but I don't care about food—only about uniting Orange County through soup. It's all good.
Kim Loan Restaurant, located at 1651 & 1653 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, is open daily, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. (714) 773-0374. Breakfast for two, $15, food only. All major credit cards accepted; El Camino Real, located at 303 N. Euclid St., Fullerton, is open daily, 7 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Pozole served on weekends only. (714) 447-3962. Breakfast for two, $10-$15, food only. Cash only.