Monday, February 9, 2015

Beyond Pho

How do I even describe my love for Noodles? And, I'm not talking about just any noodles. I'm talking about light, al dente rice noodles swimming in a hot, spicy broth that takes you back to whatever wonderful feeling of "home" you have. Add some savory cuts of meat. Toss in fresh, crunchy and fragrantly fabulous vegetables, and you my friend have love in a bowl. Love in a bowl.

Like look at that. LOOK AT THAT. You have to be kidding me, right?! It's freaking beautiful. That's a $6 bowl of Canh Bun noodle soup from Nhat Vy Pho on El Cajon Boulevard. It feeds the soul.

(By the way, Vietnamese peeps, help me with these names. I have a passion for the food. The language, though, I still have a long way to go. #NotANguyen)

True story. When I got back from studying abroad in West Africa, one of my best friends BJ Cruz came with me to get an extra large bowl of pho. It was sort of a welcome home dinner. I ate the whole thing in a happy daze. Minutes later I drifted into this coma-like state. It looked a lot like this...


BJ quietly left like a surviving rabbit sneaking out of a bear's cave after it feasted before hibernation. I think he had step over my passed out body. To this day he claims I was wheezing like a fat kid who ate too much cake. Ah, good times. hurts so good.

Okay okay, back to this bloggity stuff. You're probably assuming I'm talking about pho, and I am. Oh, but not only pho. In the last couple years, my world of noodle soups entered a new realm.

Sure, some of the ingredients you'll think are strange, even funky. But I can promise you one thing - it's all delicious. So delicious that you'll randomly crave it days, weeks even months later. So here's a list of my favorite local places and the dishes I've tried that blew me away:

Pho @ Pho Cow Cali in Mira Mesa

The noodles are always cooked perfectly (not overdone and mushy like at some other places), broth is fragrant and doesn't contain too much MSG. You still feel good after a bowl of this stuff. Condiment-veggies always come out fresh. Say no to brown bean sprouts  - red flag. This place is also known for their bun bo hue. It is very good here, but my favorite place has to be....

Bun bo Hue @ Mien Trung in Clairemont

This place is a hole in a hole-in-the-wall, and it's right next to some other righteous eateries (K Sandwiches, The Original Sab-Bee-Lee & Sushi Diner).

If I only had one meal left to eat before I died, this would very likely be it. Compared to pho, the broth is much richer and more seasoned. This place makes a bun bo hue where the broth sings with lemongrass, anise and chili oil. They always serve it with a pile of delicious vegetables, and the meats are cooked and cut to perfection. For conservative eaters, some of the meats may surprise you. There are blood cubes (which taste like nothing really. They're not strange at all. They taste like whatever sauce/soup they're immersed in), pig's leg (very delicious but fatty. sometimes I ask for the dish without it) and that's about it. If those things don't bother you, order everything...go all in...JUMP IN THE DEEP END! You'll thank yourself later.

Bun Rieu @ Nhat Vy in City Heights

This is a beautifully delicious soup that may ruin pho forever. You'll think to yourself "I've been missing out!" Once you go bun rieu, you can't go back.

It's a Vietnamese crab and tomato-based noodle soup that has crab, eggs, tomatoes and several other meat ball goody things in it. It's both light and rich, if that makes any sense -- not fishy at all. It has a distinct crab flavor and scent that'll leave your mouth watering.

Nhat Vy has a bunch of other good dishes I'd recommend. This is just one of my favorites. And it's only $5-$6.

Since one cannot limit one's noodle love in just one post, be sure more are to come. I'm constantly in search of the next best noodle soup. And remember, there's still ramen. DON'T GET ME STARTED. San Diego is killing it on the ramen front.

In the meantime, happy eating!

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