Hop Phan might be the hardest-working yet most unappreciated chef in OC today. He has represented us well on national TV shows ranging from Chopped to Cutthroat Kitchen, and he still runs his Dos Chinos food truck and stall. All this year, his lobster elote—the crustacean split and stuffed with roasted, buttered kernels, a mishmash so decadent you don't know where animal ends and corn starts—has rightfully been an Instagram sensation.
And yet . . . Phan's name is rarely brought up when mentioning OC's great chefs, as he's not as well-known publicly as Jason Quinn or Carlos Salgado or even restaurateurs such as Leonard Chan. It doesn't bother him much—dude's humbler than St. Simeon Stylites. But let's give him some love. Hit up his Sit Low Pho, where he does a great job of elevating Vietnamese food from a stall at SanTana's 4th Street Market. Here's where you can sip on his pho, brown with brisket and New York steak, hefty and fatty and splashy. Even more imaginative is the French dip bánh mì, a brilliant bit of colonialist reappropriation in which he takes the Frenchified Vietnamese sandwich, then Philippe's it up with a bowl of his excellent beef pho—all that's missing is some fish sauce-spiked hot mustard.
Sit Low Pho also lands the classics, with excellent egg rolls, búns, other bánh mìs and garlic chicken wings that deserve their own franchise opportunty. But the best thing about Phan is a quote he gave our Anne Marie Panoringan regarding the rise of Asian restaurants in downtown SanTana. “Don't you find it fitting that DTSA,” he told Panoringan, “which used to be a Chinatown, is now Chinotown again?” It's as brilliant a quote as I've heard anyone ever give about Orange County, simultaneously poignant and hilarious, acknowledging change is inevitable yet demanding respect for the past. As this terrible political year comes to a conclusion, celebrate the continuation of our democracy with a giant bowl of Phan's pho. Then lobby the Santa Ana City Council to make him honorary mayor of Chinotown so he can get the mainstream recognition he so deserves.
Sit Low Pho, 201 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0322. Follow it on Instagram: @sitlowpho.