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
14182 Newport Ave
Tustin, CA 92780