Final Pho, Round 1: Pho 79 vs. Pho 86

Pho 79's pho tai nam ve gan gau--rare and well-done beef, flank, brisket and tendons
Welcome to OC Weekly's Final Pho. Sixteen pho shops chosen from the more than 100 in the county; four critics who know what the pho makes a good bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup. The chosen 16 will face off in each of our brackets, two by two. This episode will be played by the numbers--the last match-up in Round 1.

Staring at each other moodily catercornered at the intersection of Brookhurst and Hazard are two of the most beloved, O.G. pho shops in Orange County. They're so O.G. that, in a nod to the utilitarian naming policies of the Vietnamese government, they are identified not by name, but by number. Pho 79 is in Garden Grove; Pho 86 is in Westminster, the two grandes dames of the Vietnamese diaspora in this county.

Park creatively. Everyone else does.
Pho 79 might be one of the best values in Little Saigon, next to Thanh Lich's $2.99 happy hour, particularly for the small bowl of pho. It is jammed with good-quality meat, the broth has great body and is redolent of cinnamon, and servers will happily bring you all the sprouts you care to drown in the soup. It's also the only pho shop I've seen in Little Saigon to have a kids' menu.

The glory of Pho 79 is the portioning. If you get lucky, there will be more meat than noodles in the bowl; the difference in sizes seems to be the amount of broth ladled in. The rare beef is cut thinly enough to float on top, but thickly enough to remain pink and tender even halfway into the consumption of the bowl. The flank is almost sweet, and the tendons have the perfect blend of squoosh and pop. The noodles separate with one poke of a chopstick, and the broth may be the one that marries the best with húng quế, the Thai basil that comes with saw-tooth herb on the table salad plate. (Use whole leaves for the best effect.)

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