Now here's where it gets a little iffy for me. While I'm somewhat aware of what Jonathan Gold or Chowhounders or Yelpers or other food bloggers write about, I really don't go anywhere based on any one particular recommendation. Sometimes, it's a general buzz that makes me curious, until something propels to me eat it right then and there. Pho Minh Vietnamese Restaurant fits right into that because well, while it seems to get some online lovin,' I have yet to hear it strongly recommended by a Vietnamese person.
As I drove along Garvey, I passed Pho Filet and wondered if it'd be good enough for me to skip the filet mignon pho since I was already in the neighborhood. Pho Minh is located deep inside a strip mall, literally just a block from Pho Huynh. That makes it nestled between two of my favorite pho restaurants, both of which feature filet mignon pho.
It was a Sunday around 10:15 a.m. and my cousins and I were the only customers in the restaurant. The menu was simple enough, $4.75 for a small, $5.55 for a large bowl of pho bo.
We got complimentary hot tea. The mugs were warm so the tea wouldn't cool down. That was a nice touch.
The oldest '87 and I both got the pho dac biet with steak, brisket, flank, tendon, and tripe for $5.55. The buzz online with Pho Minh is that there is no MSG in the broth. And if you're an absolutely no-MSG fanatic, then this is the right place for you. But was the broth any good? Why yes it was. Indeed, the broth was quite tasty. Noticeably better than the other two pho restaurants it's sandwiched between? Not really.
The bowl was also quite small.
The meats though... Well, I've been spoiled to expect the tenderness of filet mignon. So while the rare steak was perfectly acceptable, for the same price, I could have filet mignon. Tell me you wouldn't think the same? I thought the flank was too thick and the texture of the meatballs was too spongey.
The oldest '87's little brother ordered bun bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-style beef noodle soup), $5.55 small, $6.50 large.
*Cough.* *Cough.* Waaaay too much mam ruoc (Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste). I could smell it from the other side of the table. It came with the appropriate pig's blood cubes, shrimp paste balls, and pig's feet. My cousin liked it well enough, but I felt the fermented shrimp paste overpowered any beefy broth, spice, or lemongrass notes.
The menu also features two rice plates and bun nem nuong cha ram (Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles with grilled pork patties and shrimp egg rolls).
So overall, while it was good pho, it wasn't spectacular pho. Don't get me wrong, I had a perfectly good dining experience there. The restaurant is clean. The pho is good. The herb platters are fresh. The tea is free. The only problem is that there's stiff competition. A block in either direction and I can get filet mignon with my pho, and for roughly the same price.
Forty-five minutes later, we were still the only customers in the restaurant. As we passed Pho Filet on the way home, I noticed the parking lot and side street were jam-packed. It's a tough economy out there and everyone else wants a bit of luxury too, even if it's in the form of filet mignon with my pho.
April 23, 2011 update: Pho Minh is now closed. :(
Other restaurants along Garvey Avenue:
Chinese American Live Poultry - Rosemead
Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte
Pho Huynh Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte
Quang Tran, Inc. - Rosemead
Tito's Market - El Monte
Pho Minh Vietnamese Restaurant
9646 Garvey Ave., #109
South El Monte, CA 91733
8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
1 year ago today, Taqueria Chihuahua - Los Angeles (Mar Vista).
2 years ago today, I reminisced about the beginning of my culinary wanderings with Fessenjan (Persian Walnut Pomegranate-Glazed Cornish Game Hen), and waxed poetic about the gloaming.