Pho Crystal Noodle House - Santa Ana
There will be a time in the future when pho will be embedded into the food vocabulary of every American just like pizza and tacos is today. Since we are fortunate enough to live in a county that includes the highest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam, it can be argued that pho is already part of our everyday lexicon. I don't know anyone who doesn't know what pho is. Do you?
And with the continual proliferation of pho restaurants beyond the borders of Little Saigon, you are closer to a pho restaurant than you think. I had no idea there was one on a street that I practically traverse on a daily basis until one day it popped up on the GPS when I was actually looking for another pho joint.
The grime on the windows suggest that Pho Crystal Noodle House has been there on Bristol Street for quite a while--at least as another pho joint. The artifacts of its former life as Pho Bistro is still on an old marquee the landlords hadn't bothered to change. Apparently it recently changed hands because they're still in that honeymoon period where they give out free bowls of che dessert to every customer. But for all intents, the menu looks no different than what it probably was under the last set of owners. Pho is featured in all the usual permutations; rice dishes and crispy noodles fill in the rest; and then there's the hu tieu, which, if you've read this blog long enough, is what I usually order at pho joints...yes, call me a rebel.
This one is just as lovely as all that I've had before. I opted for mi for my noodle, thin yellow strands that still had a nice al dente chew, and there were more shrimp in the bowl than my picture would suggest--at least two more. But there was also more char siu, those indispensable slices of red food-colored Chinese BBQ pork that's become the workhorse of soups like this. Mine was particularly meaty, with a flavor that's unmistakably pig. And there was slowly wilting lettuce and, most important of all, a broth clear and sweet, like sugar was involved. A squeeze of lemon rounded it off and bubbles of fat--possibly leeching out the piece of fried chicken they dropped in there--skittered and gleamed on the surface of the liquid.
Yes, I did say fried chicken. Pho Crystal Noodle, apart from being the restaurant that seemingly popped out of nowhere, is also the first Vietnamese joint that I know of that offers a piece of fried chicken in its soup. You gnaw it at first by trying to grip the thing with your chopsticks; but then later, you go to town with your hands. To eat it without licking your fingers is impossible...which is the point of fried chicken, I think.
Pho Crystal Noodle House
3037 S Bristol St
Santa Ana, CA 92704
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North Shore Poke Company - Huntington Beach