Pho So 1 is ‘Number One’
By Charles Lam
I make it a point to avoid Vietnamese restaurants that have English names. They tend to be more focused on marketing than on food, so when Pho Bac Ky on Jeffrey decided to changed their name to ‘Photasia’ I was conflicted. Bac Ky was the best place to get pho in Irvine but Photasia was possibly the worst Pho-based pun name I’d ever heard. For a few months, I made the trek to Pho 54 whenever I needed my fix.
So, when Pho So 1 opened in the husk of long unimpressive Jalapenos? I was ecstatic.
Located at the corner of Culver and Alton, Pho So 1 is nestled between Big 5 and Albertsons. Though it’s surrounded by one of the most American shopping plazas in Irvine, the service you get is the genuine Vietnamese restaurant experience. That means, they’re not going to be bringing you the check, you’re going to have to ask for everything and you’re going to have to make sure to wipe down your own utensils. With the closure of Saigon Basil, Pho So 1 is now the closest place to campus you can get a bowl of pho.
And, you know what, they’re the pho restaurant that Irvine deserves. Pho So 1 does a much better job at serving up beef soup than Saigon Basil or Pho Bac Ky ever did.
First off, the décor. Pho So 1 is ugly on the inside, like it should be. It smells like beef and star anise. The lights are slightly too yellow. The walls are beige, which contrasts horribly with the black and white pictures of Vietnam that hang on the wall. This serves to highlight the plate of green herbs that come with each bowl pop even more.
The broth is perfect. It has a perfect cloudiness with a layer of near clear liquid floating on top. The flavor is rich and nourishing, without leaving an annoying film on your tongue. There’s no hint of overusing MSG. The smell is fragrant and piercing, lingering on your clothes much longer than time it takes to finish a meal.
The noodles have a perfect bite, light enough to be easily slurpable but with enough of a heft that they don’t come apart when swished around with your chopsticks.
The meat that you get when you order the supreme pho is good on almost all counts, with only the flank steak being a little chewier than desirable. The brisket is perfectly braised, coming apart at the seams, barely requiring chewing. The tripe provides the just the right amount of chewiness.
The only thing I wish was different about Pho So 1 is its hours. They close at 9 p.m. everyday but Friday, when they close at 9:30 p.m., leaving a giant hole in the I’m-really-drunk-and-want-noodles niche for UCI.
Pho So 1 isn’t the best Pho restaurant ever, but near Irvine? It’s number one. It’s nice not to have to drive all the way to Little Saigon for some good pho anymore.