741 East Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
When a American thinks of pho, they usually think of a beef noodle soup with a rich beef broth based spiced with a fair amount of cinnamon and star anise, thin rice noodles, and a wide variety of accoutrements that include Thai basil, culantro, and raw pepper slices. Well forget about all of that when you go to Phở Ngoon as they serve Hanoi/northern style phở.
What’s the difference you might ask? While I’m no expert, from my knowledge the much less lush and more harsh land of Northern Vietnam means that the people there have less fresh herbs and spices. Therefore the broth is typically simpler too the point that some may call it “bland.” However, you might also say that northern style phở is more “traditional” given that French and Chinese colonial influence in the north gave rise to the dish and, thus, phở in its more original form likely resembles northern style more closely.
So when I discovered that Phở Ngoon served Northern Vietnamese cuisine, I rushed to eat there at my next trip trip to LA, which happened to be this weekend. I stepped into the restaurant around 11:30AM when they were starting to get busy and took a look at their one sheet simple menu with maybe up to a couple dozen dishes, max. After asking the server for some of his recommendations, I ordered the following:
- Pho Tai Lan – The beef in this dish is stir fried with garlic before it melds with the broth and noodles. While the broth on the whole was lighter than the usual Saigon style phở we have ubiquitous in the US, there were definitely tons of minced garlic to the point it was almost overpowering. However, the beef was marinated and cooked very nice and tender. The phở noodles were cooked decently too. They had slightly fewer accoutrements than a typical phở place, but I only sprinkled some bean sprouts as to try to stick as closely to Northern Vietnamese style as possible. Overall a dish I enjoyed and would eat again.
- Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese Iced Coffee) – The iced coffee not only was contained in its tiny press coffee filter, but it was served in mason jars as well. Hipster/modern yuppie drinking glasses aside, the coffee mixed in really well with the condensed milk. Blended together it might be my third favorite blended dark caffeine/milk drink; following Hong Kong style milk tea and Taiwanese style boba.
- Phở Cuốn – These rolls are made with wide square cut pho noodles wrapped around lettuce, grilled slices of beef, and some mint. It is then dipped into nước chấm (fish sauce). While definitely less jam packed with flavor than Vietnamese spring rolls, these rolls were very delicious and I love them even more than ‘typical’ Vietnamese spring rolls.
All in all, my visit to Phở Ngoon was a great one and I think I really like the lighter flavor of Northern Vietnamese food. As a bonus, the service was pretty nice too, especially given that there is one server/cashier. And while I’ve seen some negative or snide comments about the rotation of Top 40 (mostly EDM and hip hop) music, I felt it was fine and in line with the more modern “hip” decor.
I definitely will be back again to try some other items and I hope you will too. This feels like a great place to expand anyone’s taste in Vietnamese food.