Pho-nomenal Awakening

Venturing inside Long Beach pho eateries

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An order of beef pho from the restaurant Long Beach Pho.

Words and Photos by Sylvana Uribe  Community Editor

When I was first invited to try it, I was 18 years old and hadn’t made many friends at my community college so I felt weird about declining the invitation. I didn’t have a clue what it was so I looked to the Internet for the answer. I then sat there for an hour combing through my engine search results for, “how do you eat pho?”

Long Beach is a playground for different types of eateries and small businesses. It was only as a college freshman that I opened up to exploring this playground after trying the popular Vietnamese dish, pho. 

After finishing the end of the semester, a few classmates pitched the idea of celebrating at Long Beach Pho. Packing into a roaring stick shift car, we drove toward a small strip mall on the corner of Willow Street and Magnolia Avenue. Parking was scarce and the restaurant shared a lot with a donut shop and pizza place. 

It was a cold day with rain clouds looming above, so we quickly went inside. We found a table pushed into a corner and I urged my lunch mates to point me toward what a first timer should order. My pleas were met with reassuring glances that let me know I’d be taken care of. Our server quickly jotted down our orders, referring to the menu items by number and within seconds, collected our menus and rushed toward the kitchen.

We ordered crispy egg rolls that were piping hot to the touch. They were served with a side of large romaine lettuce leaves, julienned carrots, cucumbers, and a fish sauce for dipping.  One of my lunch mates told us to take the egg roll and vegetable pieces and wrap it inside a lettuce leaf, leaving most of the roll unexposed. We then dipped it in the sauce and were collectively silent for a few seconds. The cold vegetables paired well with the crunch of the egg roll and the sauce drew out the flavors of the roll’s filling. It was a perfect medley.

Shortly after, large white bowls were carefully set in front of us. I watched as steam escaped the contents of the bowls, which were filled to the brim with broth. Although I can’t remember what ingredients I added to my bowl that first time, it must have been enough to get me hooked. For the past two years, I’ve proceeded to play around with what the amount of bean sprouts, basil, and lemon juice I add. Other times, I feel bold and add drizzles of sriracha sauce that I later regret. 

Since my first pho experience, I’ve also ventured out to other restaurants serving the same dish. At one point, my pho search landed us in Seal Beach at a Vietnamese fusion restaurant that has since closed down. The only other establishment that’s become a favorite has been Pho Hong Phat in the Zaferia area of Long Beach. This cash-only restaurant’s main attraction is its cheap prices for its large hearty servings of pho.

Regardless of where I go, I’ve maintained an odd loyalty to the small restaurant tucked away in the small strip mall. Pho aficionados might argue that better versions of the dish exist elsewhere, but they can never take away my first pho experience. Not since that day where I realized venturing in this city’s food scenes didn’t have to be so intimidating.

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