With a name such as Pho Daily, it’s not unreasonable to expect a Vietnamese noodle soup shop that’s nothing but a counter, and perhaps a couple of Formica-topped tables, serving half a dozen bowls of warming goodness, mostly to go.
Of course, that’s the problem with jumping to assumptions, based on a mixture of experience and flimsy evidence. Pho Daily simply doesn’t sound like a large restaurant. And, of course, that assumption goes away quickly — as soon as you walk through the entrance.
Actually, it’s as you approach the door that you’ll notice this is not the casual Vietnamese noodle shop you were expecting. It’s a heavy wood door surrounded by faux aged brickwork. It looks like what was for many years — not just one, but two margarita-heavy Mexican restaurants, Avila’s El Ranchito and then El Cortez. They decorated in the style tequila and comb-plate joints. And far as I can tell, Pho Daily hasn’t changed a thing. The tiled floors and bar, as well as the faux cracked walls and brightly colored Mexican beach scene artwork, are still there.
We’re talking a Disney version of a 1950s SoCal Mexican restaurant, housing a Vietnamese beef soup, mixed rice dish and stir-fried noodle house. Los Angeles is a city of contradictions, which is why it’s so perfect. I love wandering into what’s essentially an archaeological dig of two Mexican destinations, with a Vietnamese hotspot built on top of them. It’s so who we are.
Pho Daily is a Vietnamese destination (with another branch in Gardena) in the heart of the Long Beach Cambodian community — Cambodia Town, though there’s not much of a town to speak of. It would be distinctive no matter where Pho Daily is located, simply because its menu is much larger than most soup and noodles shops.
There are 31 possible pho dishes (egg noodle or rice noodle). This can be modified with 29 add-ons and 20 appetizers. Along with seven stir-fried noodle dishes, 11 vermicelli dishes, 18 rice dishes and 11 vegan options — and you’ve got one heck of big menu. There is not a tortilla on the menu.
There are 28 beers, Korean fruit wines and sojus, juices, and teas. Which may relate more to the Gardena branch, which is open till 4 a.m. — a decidedly post-evening/early morning destination. The branch in Long Beach closes at 9 in the evening. It does open at 10 a.m. for those who desire pho for breakfast. It’s a great idea, really.
Pho is essentially the Vietnamese version of Jewish chicken soup — therapy for whatever ails you, a happy pot of long-brewed soup stock, long-cooked veggies, a tangle of noodles, sundry herbs and spices, and even more sundry meats — rare steak, well-done brisket, flank steak, brisket point, beef tendon, tripe and meatballs — all of which show up in the top-of-the-menu Combo.
There are many options for pho lovers. They can mix and match different meats. Or, you can switch gears to chicken or barbecue pork, oxtails, wontons, roast ducks, wontons, deep-fried Tofu, shrimps and squid. There’s an option for noodles and soup only, for those of an ascetic bent. But for me, it’s in for a penny, in for a pound. I like all the pho that fits.
This is also the case for stir-fried noodles. There are many variations, but the best is the choice between soft and crispy egg noodles. It’s like one of those mood rings they used to sell in one-with-the-earth shops — whether you get soft or crispy speaks of your mood that day. Perhaps.
There are also many rice dishes. There are many vegan options. Though it doesn’t seem hard to turn at least the rice and the noodles vegan — just pass on the meats. And I do have a fondness of the score of appetizers at Pho Daily — the Sriracha hot chili chicken wings and deep-fried pork wontons, the Hainanese chicken and shaken beef with french fries.
It’s under the appetizers that you’ll find the French-Vietnamese sandwich, the banh mi, a cultural phenomenon all its own. It’s best to wash it down with Bia Saigon, a Vietnamese beer. There are no French wines available. They have left long ago.
Merrill Shindler, a freelance dining critic based in Los Angeles, is Merrill Shindler. Email [email protected]
Address:5345 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach (also at Gardena’s 15126 S. Western Ave.; 310-630-44915).
Cuisine Vietnamese pho…and so much else
When:Wednesday through Monday: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Details:Reservations not required for soft drinks, beer, and exotic juices
Atmosphere The name makes this varied Vietnamese sound like a fast-food café, which is contrary to the strikingly grand interior of the place — one of the largest Vietnamese shops in SoCal, with a menu that covers the cuisine.
PricesAbout $18 per head
Suggested dishes11 Appetizers, $6.50-$36.95; 31 Pho Dishes: Rice or noodles; $8.75 – $14.75); 7 Stir-fried Noodles, $99.95 – $15.95; 11 Vermicelli Dishes, $99.95 – $15.95; 18 Rice Dishes, $99.95 – $15.95; 11 Vegan Dishes, $6.50 – $9.95); 28 Side Dishes (75c – $10.95); 15 Party “Trays”$10-15-$50, 10 Ice Creams ($4.50).
Credit cardsV, MC