Location: Los Altos
Favorite Restaurant: Pho Vi Hoa
Reviewed Pho Vi Hoa: Thursday, April 26, 2012
After having eating dozens of lunches at Pho Vi Hoa—usually packed during the daily noontime rush—going for dinner was almost like dining at a completely different (and much less crowded) restaurant. Servers smiled and made eye contact, were patient while we perused the menu, and weren’t rushing around the dining room at breakneck speed as they typically are at lunch.
The food, however, was the same as always: fresh, flavorful and well-executed. The shrimp and pork spring rolls are a beautiful study in contrasts, in terms of both flavor and texture. Unctuous rice paper wrappers and soft vermicelli noodles mingle with crisp lettuce and mung bean sprouts while the bright flavors of fresh Thai basil and mint play beautifully with the creamy and earthy-sweet peanut dipping sauce. Equally successful are the deep-fried egg rolls, which feature a crispy wrapper that shatters under your teeth, a meaty, savory filling of shrimp, ground pork and glass noodles, and a salty, citrusy nuoc cham dipping sauce that lends a nice, bright acidity.
The star dish, however, is and always will be the beef pho. Thin rice noodles, sliced onions, and a variety of cuts of beef swim happily in a rich, salty, aromatic broth that derives its complex flavor from beef bones, star anise and other spices simmered for hours. This is real Vietnamese comfort food, like a Southeast Asian take on grandma’s chicken noodle soup.
Lastly, if you are a fan of Thai iced tea, the version they serve at Pho Vi Hoa is not to be missed. It is cold and refreshing as a beverage, though it might just be rich enough to double as a dessert. The opaque pumpkin-colored liquid is sweet, creamy, complex and almost chocolaty in its earthiness. I do consider myself a connoisseur, and this is hands-down the best Thai iced tea I’ve ever had.
In short, don’t come expecting white linen tablecloths and sophisticated atmosphere. But if you want a taste of some great Vietnamese food in a clean, efficient space offering speedy service and affordable prices, Pho Vi Hoa will not disappoint.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Phnom Penh House
Reviewed Pho Vi Hoa: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
I love Vietnamese food, which is lucky for me, because there are (at least) three excellent Vietnamese restaurants within walking distance of my house. I was looking forward to trying something new, especially because it meant a mini-adventure down the Peninsula. Pho Vi Hoa is in a little strip mall with plentiful parking on a Sunday night.
We started our dinner with the spring rolls. I liked the peanut sauce, but the rolls were boring. I’d hoped the “vegetables” promised in the menu would have included more than bean sprouts and lettuce—like mint, at least.
Next, we had the excellent papaya salad: my favorite dish of the whole night. The dressing was a little sweet and tangy, the vegetables were crunchy, and this time, the mint quotient was definitely filled. The dish was huge; we had enough left over for two servings the next day.
Then our pho arrived. All the food came out pretty quickly, which was great, but the empty dishes were starting to pile up. I expected our server to take the empty spring roll plate when he dropped off our soups, but he disappeared quickly and I had to call after him as he was leaving a nearby table.
The pho was decent. I had the eye of round steak and meatball combination; the broth was hearty and flavorful, and the bean sprouts were fresh, but I didn’t like the grey and rubbery well-done steak. I also missed the experience of watching really rare cuts of beef cook in the broth. My boyfriend ordered the eye of round steak and well-done flank pho, which was advertised in the menu as being slightly fattier than what I ordered, but one of his pieces of meat was entirely fat, therefore inedible. He said he didn’t mind, but I would have.
I knew we were to pay at the register, but I just couldn’t figure out how we were supposed to get the check. Would our server drop it off, like he did for another table? Or should we go directly to the register? I tried to catch the eye of any server walking past, but no one seemed to notice. Someone brought us to-go containers for our leftovers and asked if we were ready for the check, but then never returned. I hovered around the table until I saw another guest approach the register empty-handed and then pull out his wallet.
If you avoid the fattier cuts of meat, Pho Vi Hoa is healthy and cheap, and definitely a place I’d go for a quick lunch or dinner if I were in the immediate area. I don’t see myself going back under any other circumstances. Nothing was overtly bad, but the whole experience was just… meh. I’d rather stick to my neighborhood.
Occupation: Feng Shui Consultant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Grand Café
Reviewed Pho Vi Hoa: Friday, May 4, 2012
Pho Vi Hoa was my first reason to visit Los Altos, and so I took a friend who’d been born and raised nearby. She was surprised by my restaurant choice given the vast array of similar restaurants nearby and even more “popular” ones on Castro Street. But the place was packed and lively and we took that as a good sign.
First impressions were that it is an informal, but nicer-than-normal, Pho restaurant with carpeting, booths, and cushioned chairs. The wall art gave the impression of an economy hotel on the interstate, and I noted the standard Feng Shui tools by the register, the buddha and money frog, had a layer of dust on them and that the frog was facing the wrong way. The tall ceiling and crowded tables make for a loud environment, but not more so than any other Pho place I’ve been.
Our waitress was friendly and patient and good at describing different choices with warnings: “very large,” “very sweet”…unfortunately the rest of the servers who came by were indifferent at best, bordering on rude. One curiosity, and maybe our mistake as we ordered all of our meal at once, but they brought out our dessert first, and then the soup and then some time after, the appetizer.
The menu offers a lot of choices, and I like that they offer lean meat as well as regular for the Pho. I have Pho about once a week, and perhaps I’m used to my standard place, but I found this one a bit on the salty side, and the chicken strangely dry, as though it had be roasted rather than soaked in a broth. And while I’m not a regular to Los Altos and restaurant prices there, I thought the Pho was a little on the pricey side. The papaya salad was delicious and fresh, and the red bean and coconut milk was just sweet enough to make a perfect ending to our meal.