Final Pho, Round 1: Pho Kimmy vs. Pho Quang Trung

Dave Lieberman
Pho Kimmy's pho dac biet
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. Today's match marks the halfway point of Round 1 with two of the busiest pho shops in Orange County: Westminster's Pho Kimmy vs. Garden Grove's Pho Quang Trung.

The first challenge at Pho Kimmy is parking. There won't be any; you'll be forced to get creative with the strict limits of the other businesses' "no parking or we'll tow" zones.

Dave Lieberman
Pho Kimmy has made major strides toward accessibility; the menu is simple (only beef pho, various cuts, in three sizes) and well-translated, and there is even--hold on to your hats here--a Caucasian waiter who speaks fluent Vietnamese and English. The friendliness of the service is a step up from the usual hole-in-the-wall pho shop. There are a number of additions you can add, from rare beef on the side to hanh dam (onions in vinegar), all for 50 cents to a dollar extra.

Where the service falls down is in timing. The place is very busy, but the pho comes out in firehose-like spurts from the kitchen. There will be no bowls coming out for 10 minutes, then 30 bowls of pho will emerge at once. It took about 20 minutes for our order to arrive--an eternity in Little Saigon.

The pho itself is fairly good. The taste of the broth is properly beefy without the telltale umami of Knorr seasoning, the noodles are easy to separate, and the portion of meat is a good value for the price paid. Two minor quibbles: Even before the addition of tai (rare beef), the broth is slightly cloudy and murky, and there are visible blobs of oil on top. And the table salad--the plate of bean sprouts, herbs, chiles and citrus that is meant to doctor the soup--contained just two lonely sprigs of Thai basil, two pieces of chile, a small pile of sprouts, and a lemon rather than the more traditional lime.

One major criticism: while the fact that you can get the rare beef on the side is a good sign, one that's fairly rare on a menu even in Little Saigon, the backup in the kitchen means the broth is not hot enough to cook the beef properly when it gets to your table. The pho was actually just warm when it hit the table, and tepid five minutes later, which is not acceptable--and to get a bowl of boiling-hot soup to correct the temperature is an upcharge.

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