Here we are: the semifinals; the Final Pho. Sixteen of Orange County's finest pho shops have been whittled down to four. The winner of today's matchup will face the winner of the Pho Thanh Lich vs. Pho Quang Trung match on Friday in the championship to declare the finest (phoniest?) pho in Orange County.
It took several visits to decide on the winner of this round. Shuji and I argued back and forth via e-mail for days; major legislation has passed Congress without the amount of debate we put in over two bowls of noodle soup.
Both of us were underwhelmed by the flavor of Pho Nguyen Hue's chicken
broth; it was too light and had an aftertaste reminiscent of Knorr. The
chicken was expertly shredded, and the leg meat was well-cooked, but the
majority of the bowl was chicken breast, woken up nicely by the tart
dipping sauce. The noodles were slightly overdone, but at least a few
had the characteristic snap. The beef broth was better, but lacked
panache and had far too much star anise in it. It was exactly what you
would find at any pho shop–Pho Nguyen Hue's is a standard bowl of pho;
not outstanding, not terrible, but exactly middle-of-the-road. It's
Northern-style pho, as well–Hanoi-style–and the Northern Vietnamese
tend to make simpler pho; the Southerners are the ones so fond of
throwing in a shop's worth of spices.
Brodard Chateau's broths had that Southern soul. The chicken broth had a
deep flavor and no greasy profile; the beef broth had just enough
gelatin from the bones to coat the tongue nicely, and enough spices to
be assertive without being domineering or any one spice overwhelming the bowl. The noodles were overcooked and
mushy, however; one one visit, I had to wait 35 minutes after I ordered
for my pho to come out, by which point the rare beef was practically
The presentation at Brodard Chateau, of course, was excellent, with
pesto-rubbed slices of baguette toast to dip in the broth, perky basil
(but different types of basil on two separate visits) and sawleaf herb,
the freshest sprouts, and a pre-made dipping bowl of hoisin and sriracha
sauce. One major sin–easily corrected with a word to the staff–is that
chicken pho comes with the same setup, rather than with the sweet,
gingery dipping sauce that is the hallmark of Brodard Chateau and served
with every (practically mandatory) order of their nem nuong cuon.
Could we award a trip to the championship to a $9 bowl of pho? Doesn't the value proposition need to be taken into account?
Well, yes… and no. A small bowl of pho at Pho Nguyen Hue is $4.25, one
of the best values in Little Saigon. It's a worthy destination in its own right, and would stack up nicely against any pho shop in Los Angeles (Did you hear that, LA Weekly? That's the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down.) We are after the best pho, not
the best-value pho, and Shuji summed it up beautifully when he said that
Pho Nguyen Hue was the Lady Antebellum of pho. Based solely on the
flavor, and recognizing that the bracket system has eliminated worthier
and more consistently good bowls of pho, we have chosen:
WINNER, AND ADVANCING TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP: Brodard Chateau.
Pho Nguyen Hue, 10487 Bolsa Ave., Westminster; (714) 839-8916; phonhue.com.
Brodard Chateau, 9100 Trask Ave., Garden Grove; (714) 899-8273; brodard.net.
ROUND 1 WINNERS:
Pho Dakao vs. Kim Loan: Pho Dakao
AnQi vs. Benley: Benley
Pho Thanh Lich vs. Pho Vinh Ky 2: Pho Thanh Lich
Pho Kimmy vs. Pho Quang Trung: Pho Quang Trung
Pho Hien Vuong vs. Pho Nguyen Hue: Pho Nguyen Hue
Brodard Chateau vs. S Vietnamese Fine Dining: Brodard Chateau
Pho Thang Long vs. Quan Hop: Quan Hop
Pho 79 vs. Pho 86: Pho 86