Where to Get Your Pho Fix
In the planetary battle of international cuisine, Vietnam’s traditional noodle soup pho definitely sits at the royal table. A pleasing, belly-warming blend of rice noodles, a nice smokey/sweet broth, raw and cooked beef (or other meats and seafood if you prefer), and a do-it-yourself blend of basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, and jalapenos, pho is a daily delight for commoners and kingfolk alike. It’s good on hot days, better on cold ones, perfect for sick ones, and some of the best food to eat alone while reading a magazine or book. In my neighborhood, someone’s eating pho at least once a week, if not more. And ever since Saigon In and Out opened on Milpas Street a year or so ago, there’s only been one place to get our pho fix.
Despite being raised in East San Jose, where I’ve since learned is the California mecca for pho, my introduction to the soup didn’t come until after college when I ventured with my Chinese American friend Karin to the two places that sold Vietnamese in Old Town Goleta. We’d go every other month or so as I slowly developed my addiction, enduring the afternoon drives to the Good Land and surviving at least one episode being too cocky and ordering the real deal, with tendons and stomach lining and all. Those places still sell great stuff, but when I found Saigon, I discovered a broth that was more flavorful, service that was more friendly, and side dishes like the spring rolls and egg rolls that helped prepare my taste buds for the pho experience. (For the record, Karin liked the Old Town places better, finding Saigon’s broth a little on the greasy side.)
These days, my typical order goes like this: pork egg rolls, which come with cilantro and lettuce to wrap, and fish sauce to dip; the pho tai nam, with raw and cooked beef; and a lemonade, prepared ever so sweet and sour and serving as a reliable beverage to wash down the spicy soup. Every so often I’ll opt for the Vietnamese beer. If it’s lunchtime, I can be in and out in literally under half an hour. For dinner, I linger longer, but it’s still a fast affair. And then when the bill comes, my smile widens, for I can scrape by under $10 if I’m careful. And eating either lunch or dinner for under $10 in town is quite an accomplishment. No wonder I can’t stop returning every week.
The Details: Saigon In and Out is located at 318 North Milpas Street and is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the weekends. It’s closed on Tuesdays. Call 966-0916 or see www.saigoninandout.com