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

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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.

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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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Wally
Wally

Excuse me, but to the Vietnamese, there is little difference between lemon and lime. They will use the word "chanh" which generally describes either lemon or lime. Believe me when I tell you, no Vietnamese will ever walk out of a pho restaurant disappointed because they served lemon instead of lime. Absolutely a non- issue.

Trai_dep
Trai_dep

I will douse my face in ash and wear black for a month, mourning the fact that Pho Kimmy was knocked out so early on some questionable calls.

1) Pho ga vs pho bo seems... Unsporting. For pho fans, we'd appreciate a demarcation, especially in the initial rounds. Maybe next time?2) Pho Kimmy uses fresh (not frozen) beef. That's one of the reasons they can serve it on a plate without alarmed looks from the staff loath to place beef popsicles on a plate and call it a day3) Limes versus lemons, as noted, is a seasonal thing. Seems unfair to single out Pho Kimmy for this.4) Pho Kimmy has among the warmest staff I know of, and they're almost ridiculous in how they overstaff5) The broth itself is like manna: rich in spices, seeped for many hours, sweetened by time, care and love, versus larded up with MSG-sprinkled shortcuts. It's the broth that keeps me coming back: it's addictive beyond measure.6) Parking? Really?! Are you from Newport Beach? Hint: try parking the next street over, next to the school soccer fields. I realize OC kids consider a 1/2 block walk an ordeal unseen since the Bataan Death March, but c'mon, fellahs: it's not THAT horrible.7) The wait can sometimes be a chore, but it's because the mom (that's right: a MOM makes your bowl of pho. Why do you hate Motherhood so?) makes every bowl individually, rather than 20 at a time. Because Pho Kimmy cares for YOU. You as a person, not a number. Yes, even you, David Lieberman. 8) Pho Kimmy would never consider opening up franchises, like some other places. Because

I hope next year, they get a better shake.

(*cough* that said, Dave, picking the best pho place is a tough task. We appreciate the effort. Even if we're a bit jealous that you somehow convinced your editors to pick up the tab. Genius!)

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Trai: The pho gà vs. pho bò debate popped up in other match-ups, as well...

Nicolemashore
Nicolemashore

Lemons are served with chicken pho and limes with beef. No lime shortage. The flavors match better.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

I've had both lemons and limes with chicken pho... but then why the lemons at Pho Kimmy, a beef-only pho shop?

Frank Nguyen
Frank Nguyen

Try iPho, they are serving Lime all year round. They are offering KOBE beef Pho also.They had the best and the most quality ingridient beside their Exotic Menu : Wagyu Beef,Kangaroo, Kurobuta Pork, Python, Alligator,Emu, Ostrich Pho, Alpaca and Lion Meat.

Shuji Sakai
Shuji Sakai

It's lemon season now. They're cheaper than limes. In summer, it reverses.

digkv
digkv

Is that why Shuji? haha that totally makes sense then I've been wondering why all the pho places have been giving me lemons. The flavor of lemon is just a bit strange to go with pho, at least for me, a person who absolutely adores lime.

Cunning Stunts
Cunning Stunts

Does anyone think that a Pho place in Little Saigon will be serving Corned Beef Pho tonight? I know it sounds totally hoekey and non authentic, but I would totally go get a bowl if someone made it tonight!

Cunning Stunts
Cunning Stunts

I wish we had all pho-ing time and blog space in the world to do separate chicken and beef pho competition write ups. This way we are comparing apples to apples. This has been my only complaint about the recent write ups.

As far as the rare tai....my Vietnamese friends squeeze lots of the fresh lime on it so it cooks for a bit after it is first brought out. Then they simply dip in the broth for only a second before the eat it or they don't dip it at all and "chase" it with a spoonful of broth.

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