What Is Great and Authentic Pho? Here’s One Example

November 17, 2009


Pho Lu beef pho tai chin sachI don’t write much pho reviews these days, but I can’t help but write this one on Phở Lú. It’s a funny name, but the pho is near heaven. We all have our own ways of describing our best pho experiences, and here is my own example of great and authentic pho.

Many well known pho chef and Viet culinary experts have said, I agree with them: It’s all in the pho broth.

So it happened at Pho Lu. A whiff of the bowl placed in front of me almost knocked me off my chair. It wasn’t bad, no, it was strangely yet familiarly great! I instantly knew that I was going to enjoy this. In fact I sat and stared at it for 5-10 seconds (I don’t remember.) So what’s the big deal? People eat great pho everyday. Well you can read many online reviews of pho at Pho Lu, but for me, the fragrance that entered my nostrils instantly brought back life I had in Saigon. No not recently, not even at Pho Hoa Pasteur that I raved much about recently. No it was my childhood. Pho as I remember it in Saigon before 1975!

My intuition told me I needed to pick up the spoon and try the broth immediately. All I can say is: it is what pho broth should be. So then on this rare occasion, I finished this huge bowl of pho without adding the hoisin sauce for pho and the red hot sauce. No I didn’t forget. I just didn’t need them. I normally only do this for authentic Pho Bac, the northern kind.

Pho Lu front entranceHere’s what I had and my ratings:

November 9, 2009
Pho tai, chin, sach (beef: rare, well-done brisket, tripe,) large size, and cà-phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk.)

Pho noodle: (5/5)
Soup stock: (5/5)
Meats: (5/5)
Garnishes*: (5/5) freshness
Garnishes: (5/5) extra points for fresh ngo gai
Price: (-1) for small extra charge for rare beef on the side
Extra points: (5/5) for clean dining area, very comfortable ambience, authentically friendly service
Total points: 29/35
* No points for expected garnishes of sprouts, Thai basil, lime and chiles.
For further explanation of my rating system, see the post “The Importance of Garnishes for Pho.”

Phở Lú
10141 Westminster Ave, Ste 5
Garden Grove, CA 92843
(714) 539-7979

Phở Lú as seen from Westminster Ave. – just across from Pho Vie II!

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The coffee was great by the way. And as long as we’re talking great pho and great pho restaurant, why not take this poll and tell us your opinions if you haven’t already done so. Thanks!

Your perfect pho restaurant? Select up to 4.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ayana June 10, 2010 at 7:37 pm

I am still trying to figure out what Pho is suppose to taste. I guess if I am ever in CA then I will try Pho Lu. But, you never described what made the beef broth so good.?.?.?.? What should an ameteur pho eater look for with their first bowl of pho.

2 Cuong Huynh June 14, 2010 at 8:01 am

Hi ayana: Thanks for your question. Obviously it’s not easy to use words to describe tastes that are as complex as pho, especially when there are acceptable variations, and they are all good. I did attempt to address this exact issue using another post called On Viet People’s Expectations, Standards, and Ideals for Pho vs. Non-Viet. You may give it a try and tell me what you think.

3 Kim Nguyen November 8, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Hello ayana,
Pho was originally from the North, so the acceptable variations have to come from the North. By adding Siracha and Hoisin sauce to the broth is not what the intention of the cooker taste. But by adding fresh chili and lime juice will be individual choice of reference in the North. The original broth form from the North were cooked with Beef bone, Xa Sung, and Tom trung. Xa Sung and tom trung will add deep anchovy flavor and Umani to the taste of the soup. By the way, MSG is a must on most of the Northern dish, they put it in at the last minute.( mi chin)( Your option) You are not going to die because of MSG( FDA APPROVED), but may allergic to it. Ginger, anise star, shallot, onion, clove, cinnamon, etc…(People preference on fragrance). Northern Pho
ate their Pho without bean sprout or basil( Herb ). I hope this will help you find a standard in Pho Broth. I found a place call iPho Restaurant in Fountain Valley, Ca. 714-418-1749. This place they cooked their Pho with Beef bone and Xa Sung, but no tom trung. They had the Best Broth and Flavor in Bolsa ( even better than Lu and Kimmy ). They even have Wagyu ( KOBE ) beef for the rare( Tai ). Check them out.

4 Cuong Huynh November 9, 2010 at 12:34 am

Hi Kim Nguyen: Thanks for your input. Can you explain a little more on Xa Sung and Tom Trung, maybe reference a reliable source showing these ingredients and how they are prepared and used in Pho Bac? Using words to describe how pho should taste like is always a futile attempt, which is why I try not to do it that way. By the way are you associated with iPho Restaurant? You have an exact comment on this other post “Five Signs of a Good Phở Restaurant.”

5 apple916 June 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Hi..thanks for the ipho referal. The place sounds great with kobe beef, however on Yelp they have only 2.5 stars out of 22 reviews which is not good at all. When was the last time you were there? could be the original owners sold it to someone else who did not know how to run a pho rest.

6 idlehouse March 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Pho Lu’ is the only Pho for me when I’m down in OC (it being 3 blocks from my in laws’ place doesn’t hurt neither). Some raining nights in the Bay Area I I would have these major cravings specifically for pho Lu’, so much so that it hurts :) I’m a fan of their brisket, best brisket in town.
I think part of the broth’s charms is a big hunk of charred ginger (unpeeled) in there and lots of coriander seeds.

7 Cuong March 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Hi apple916: I can’t vouch for Pho Lu if their quality actually goes down, which I doubt. I’ll be by there in the next week or so, and will try to see if they’ve changed. I did like it a lot about 7 months ago when I was last there. With respect to Yelp, I think it’s hit and miss. Plus I am not totally convinced of the way Yelp filters comments and reviews, taking off some and leaving others on. I do read Yelp reviews but I put my own filters in as well. Thanks for sharing!

8 Cuong March 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Hi idlehouse: You must really like Pho Lu then, I wouldn’t have guessed ;) Yes I agree, their brisket is very good, soft and tasty. In our Ui-Cha! Pho place at the University of Montana, we have our own way of doing flank and brisket and they come out heaven! So I do like Pho Lu’s meat that has similar taste and texture, and very rich beefy flavor. One question for you: how did you figure the details about the charred ginger and coriander seeds?

9 apple916 April 15, 2012 at 12:36 am

Hi cuong,

did you get a chance to see if ipho quality has slipped yet? give me the green light and I’ll be there

10 Cuong April 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm

apple916: No I did get back in the area but the schedule did not allow even a stop by Pho Lu. Will have to put it on my list again for next 2-3 weeks when I’ll be back there. Why don’t you go and let me know ;)

11 Cuong April 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm

apple916: I’m afraid it’s a yellow light: warning on Pho Lu. The quality has definitely slipped. Of course one sitting is not for judging, but after consistently serving good pho, the broth now tasted somewhat bland to me when I stopped by last week. Looks like a change in operator.

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