Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pho Hung Vuong - Tustin

It wasn't long ago that pho, the acclaimed beef noodle soup of Vietnam, seemed like it was on the cutting edge of a new and exotic cuisine. If Vietnamese was the new Thai, pho was the new pad thai. But after over a decade of consuming hundreds of bowls at dozens of joints large and small, spotless and grimy, I am suffering from pho fatigue, or as I like to call it: "pho-tigue."

Relegated to the "been-there-done-that" bin in my brain -- along with teriyaki and too many plates of kung pao chicken -- it seems that every bowl of pho I slurp is virtually indistinguishable from the next.

At Pho Hung Vuong in Tustin, their titular dish is, of course, pho. And although the restaurant does a decent and faithful version of it, my attention gravitates elsewhere, to somewhere on the back page of the menu. It's there that I've found my new noodle soup obsession.

Its name: Hu Tieu Mi Dac Biet ($6.25).

It starts, as all things noodle soup does, with the broth. And it's a gorgeous brew, lovingly culled from pork and chicken, and harnessing all of its essence. In my bowl, floating bubbles of melted fat skitter across the surface of the liquid, like disembodied spirits possessed with flavors both sweet and savory. Garnished artfully with chopped cilantro, scallions, and heightened by a squeeze of lime, this hot, soothing nectar is simultaneously rich and refreshing -- a lip-smackingly good and honest soup. Each sip energizes the palate, entices the gullet, and warms the soul.

Submerged beneath the shimmering elixir you'll find not one, but two types of noodle, existing in a dichotomy of textures -- a veritable yin/yang of starches. Gelatin-clear, stretchy and elastic strands of chewy hu tieu constitutes the yin. Its yang is a firm and crinkly yellow egg noodle called mi. The pair are entwined in a lustful embrace, like lovers in a jacuzzi of boiling broth.

But they aren't alone. Among the many bearing witness to the delicious affair are four jumbo shrimp as big as a toddler's fist, barely cooked to a jiggly perfection. The rest of the motley crew include: thick and floppy rectangles of fish cake; wispy, razor-thin slices of red-rimmed xa xiu (barbecued pork); turgid cylinders of krab; and blanched, white curls of calamari.

Pho may still be the reigning king of Vietnamese noodle soup, but at Pho Hung Vuong, I worship at the altar of its rightful heir: Hu Tieu Mi Dac Biet.

Pho Hung Vuong Restaurant
(714) 731-1933
14182 Newport Ave
Tustin, CA 92780

34 Comments:

At 11:39 PM, Blogger Alvin said...

This place sounds great, I'll have to try it out some time!

Just out of curiosity, where is your favorite place to get pho? Mine is currently Pho Bac Ky on Barranca in Irvine.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger cdmedici said...

I love this place. I must eat lunch there at least once a week..sometimes three.

 
At 10:31 AM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Looks good, although I've never been stricken with pho-tigue.

Did you know there's a restuarant that specializes in this dish in the same complex as Quan Hy?

 
At 4:45 PM, Blogger Christine D. said...

Wow, business there has sure picked up! The only time I've been there was about 4 years ago when they were just starting, and for a while there were barely any customers.

Those noodles look yummo (damn you rachael ray!).

 
At 7:16 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Alvin,

My favorites for pho in the Irvine/Tustin area are Pho Hung Vuong and Pho Bac Ky (Barranca). If I do get a hankering for Vietnamese and I'm too tired to drive to Little Saigon, you'll find me at either of those two. But in Little Saigon, I like Quan Hy's pho, and also a little place on the Bolsa strip. I know where it is, but I don't recall the name.

cdmedici,

Now that I'm addicted to their Hu Tieu, I am also going to be a regular. Their rice dishes look pretty good too.

CP,

A restaurant that *specializes* in Hu Tieu?! I must scope this out! I would guess that Hu Tieu will be in the name?

Christine,

They recently changed ownership, and it looks like they've finally struck the right tune, because the food is great, and the prices so reasonable that even Rachael Ray would approve..."Money, Money, Money!"

 
At 8:08 PM, Blogger The Bill said...

Nice review of the starches.
If you a pho fanatic and you're around Bolsa area. Stop by Pho Kimmy on the corner of Bushard and Bolsa it's hidden in the back where the apartments are, parking lots sucks but the pho is good and not loaded with MSG and nicely flavor with fish sauce. :-D

 
At 9:37 PM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

elmo,

suffering from photigue? go get some pho with bull dick in it. that'll snap you out of it...for life! you'll never complain about regular ol' pho again. i promise you.

 
At 10:43 PM, Blogger googiemel said...

Do you know of any places that serve a vegetarian pho? I've recently gone vegetarian and so I have to cut out that chicken and beef broth! I'll still eat seagood though. Any ideas? :]

 
At 3:06 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

FUnny. I just had pho yesterday. I never get sick of it, but only because I try and have different dish each time that I go for Vietnamese, so it's usally awhile before I get around to having pho again. I will have to see if our usually stop has hu tieu mi dac biet next time, though. It sounds yummy!

 
At 4:18 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

The Bill,

I've actually heard of Pho Kimmy. When I get out of my pho-slump, I think I'll try it.

Eddie,

Ah, yeah...that would do 'er alright. I'll get the shower ready, so that I can curl up into a ball under it when I get back home. ;-)

googiemel,

You're in luck. There's a Vietnamese restaurant that does *ONLY* vegetarian. It's called Au Lac, and they have vegetarian pho. Faux pho! Sorry I couldn't resist. Here's their menu and website.

Juliet,

I think the last time I had pho was in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, last November. At that time, I needed it, for a little taste of home. And man it *was* just what I needed...eventhough it was so loaded with MSG, it left me buzzing for hours.

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger Jay said...

I go to Pho Hung Vuong regularly. In fact I'm going there for dinner tonight, I may have to give that Hu Tieu Mi Dac Biet a try. Then again, I think I feel like some Banh Xeo tonight, but I'm def gonna try that next time.

 
At 1:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, as with all Vietnamese restaurants, each has a specialty. Hu tieu and mi have Chinese roots and you will only find truly authentic hu tieu mi at Chinese places, not pho places.

And you didn't know this, but no bowl of hu tieu mi is complete without a serving of crispy dau chao quay breadsticks!!!

Next time, try Trieu Chau in Santa Ana (grungy but good) or My Vi Mi Gia in Garden Grove (tiny shack, but the best damn bowl of hu tieu mi around).

Happy eating.

 
At 2:17 AM, Blogger Melting Wok said...

elmo, I'm not really fond of pho, BUT this seafood noodle soup is what I usually order, I love the one from Golden Deli especially, the broth is so shrimpy and the green bean noodle is so delicious. Great choice :)By the way, wait no more, just did my Rendang post :P :)

 
At 8:31 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - Nice! The contrasting textures of the noodles sound great.

 
At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Leanne said...

There's this Pho place on Brookhurst and Hazard. It's hidden behind the liquor store. So far it's the best and closest- to-how-Pho-should-taste-like place that I've tried. I can't recall the name because I don't eat there often. I would like to, but everytime I go there it's always packed.
Crowds and lines are such a turnoff.

 
At 10:32 AM, Blogger The Bill said...

I think Leanne - is referring to Pho 79 - they serve an honest bowl of pho.

 
At 11:10 AM, Blogger googiemel said...

wow-- vegetarian pho! elmo, you're good for everything! i was happy to give up meat, i don't really like it much, until i realized that chicken and beef broths went along with that, and i'm missing out on a lot of soups that i love. :)

that's amazing, bookmarked!!

 
At 11:37 AM, Blogger googiemel said...

you know what, elmo? i read both your blog and ocfoodblogs. if you ever had a chance to do a feature on some vegetarian restaurants in orange county outside of the obvious (Native Foods, Mother's Market, etc.), it would be really great. that, or to offer vegetarian selections at each restaurant you visit. i love going out to eat, but now that my selection is a little limited, i'd love to know what else is out there.

i might go to au lac for lunch today :P

 
At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Passionate Eater said...

I am still a staunch supporter of the "King," but you've done a convincing job of swaying my dedications to what could be a possible coup d'etat in favor of another noodle soup!

 
At 3:42 PM, Blogger Beach said...

Elmo,
Try Hu Tieu at Trieu Chau ( Westminster & Brookhurst) or Newhope and First St.. Those 2 are the best in town. If you want to try the dry version, go to Quan Phuong on Westminster and Taft? between Brookhurst and Euclid. Like anonymous said it is not complete without "quay" ( chinese donut).

 
At 5:43 PM, Blogger natalie@theliquidmuse.com said...

You are making me seriously hungry! And, I just mentioned, on a local radio show, that Pho is the one hangover cure I swear by!!

 
At 8:10 PM, Blogger Deb said...

I LOVE this place! You've got all the right eateries down pat!

 
At 3:14 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Elmo,
Took a co-worker of mine here. I forgot that I used to eat here once or twice a month when I used to work in Santa Ana. It was as good as I remembered. I used to exclusively order a bowl of pho though. The Hu Tieu Mi Dac Biet was excellent, almost as good as the Hu Tieu I had in Da Nang a couple years ago, but definitely the best I've had in the states. Washed it down with a cold glass of Sua Dau Nanh. We both enjoyed our lunch. Thanks for reminding me of this place, and thanks for another great review.

 
At 3:16 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Oh and +1 for Trieu Chau. That is probably the best Chinese/Vietnamese noodle spot in OC, I've been going there sporadically for almost 19 years.

 
At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hu tieu isn't right without the quail eggs.

Au Lac was pretty good when I ate there way back when. The Chinese restaurants in SGV do fake meat better though.

 
At 8:54 PM, Blogger googiemel said...

ocvegetarian

well, now i've just gone and started a food blog. i don't know whether i can handle it. feel free to drop me a line for any advice, i sure name-dropped you in my first post. :)

 
At 3:01 AM, Blogger Noodlegirl said...

I've definitely got to venture a bit more outside of Little Saigon to try places like these, but it's hard to because well, LS is generally hard to beat, especially in OC!

I am curious to try the glass hu tieu noodles there. I'm used to the opaque white noodles ... thanks for the idea!

 
At 2:48 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Been out-of-town for the past week with no Internet access...so these replies are late.

jay,

I'm going to try the Banh Xeo next. I have a feeling I'm going to like their version just as much. I heard they also have good Banh Hoi.

Anonymous,

I've been meaning to try Trieu Chau. I'm a regular at their Tustin offspring, Noodle Avenue. Had no idea that Trieu Chau specializes in Hu Tieu Mi. I thought what they did was called chiu chow noodles. In any case, I'm so there! Especially now that you mention hu tieu must come with those fried savory dough sticks.

Melting Wok,

Rendaaaang! I'll rush on over once I'm done posting me overdue replies.

Kirk,

And it was! The clear noodles alone would've made me happy, but the both of them together made for a nice meal.

Leanne,

Crowds and lines actually deter me too...but if the rewards are as good as you say, I'll stand in it.

Bill,

Noted! So it's one of the Pho ##'s. Funny, I heard from a Vietnamese friend to avoid any Pho that ends with a number. Didn't give a reason, he just said it. I'll have to try Pho 79.

Googiemel,

I hope to see a review of Au Lac on your new blog! And thanks for the shout out! P.S. I just left a comment on your inaugural post.

PE,

Pho has too many followers for it to abdicate, but if every place serves hu tieu like Pho Hung Vuong, then the king will need to worry.

Beach,

A thumbs up from you for Trieu Chau. I think that cinches it. I'm going to try it next week.

Natalie,

You did a segment about pho as a hangover cure on a radio show? Where can I listen?

Deb,

I think I'm a late comer to Pho Hung Vuong. People have been saying how great it was and I should've tried it a lot sooner than I did.

Lawrence,

Great! Thanks for reporting back. I'm glad the hu tieu lived up to your expectations. I was actually quite blown away by it. It was that good. Now I have to taste what it's like in Da Nang.

Anonymous,

Quail eggs? First its the Chinese dough sticks, and now the quail eggs. Can this dish get any better?

Noodlegirl,

You're right about LS...it's hard for places outside it to top the food that can be had there. Pho Hung Vuong is pretty darned good though. And it's really close to my domicile, which always earns extra points since I don't have to slog my way through the 405 to Brookhust.

 
At 8:10 PM, Anonymous annie said...

WOW your review made me horny for Pho. Ahhhhh

 
At 10:25 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Annie,

I failed! I was trying to make people horny for Hu Tieu. HAHA!

 
At 7:19 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

I went here and ordered this exact same dish based on your recommendation! It was great. I would laugh to myself though I look at the noodles because I kept thinking about them in a "lustful embrace". I felt very naughty eating it because of that and had to take a shower when I got home.

 
At 1:33 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Diamond Dog,

HAHA! That's hilarious! I'm glad you liked it though, eventhough my description made you feel less than wholesome.

 
At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I concur that hu tieu is a great substitute for everyday pho ga and pho bo (even for pho ga long, which has the addition of chicken hearts, livers, gizzrds, and other tasty innards).

Some of the versions here in Viginia at the famous Eden Center also have a few small quail eggs thrown in, and it's done at the last moment before serving so you're likely to get a runny yolk or soft boiled texture at most. Not something I'd normally go for but in the hu tieu it works.

 
At 7:19 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

That's two votes for the quail eggs! Man, is there nothing that this dish can't have?!

 

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