Pho Viet - Saratoga, CA

On our most recent trip to the West Coast, my buddy Zack met up with me at our hotel and we finally got to spend some long deserved time together. Zack and I have been compadres since my climbing days at UNC, where in fact, I met a lot of my best friends. There's nothing like putting your life in someone's hands to build trust and lasting friendships.

"The itch," as my cousin calls it, was hitting me pretty bad. I had to find some good cheap noodle soup, STAT! I hit up Yelp!, my first line of research when it comes to unknown territories, and found a restaurant that had a 3 star rating with over 50 reviews, and only one "$". This is a winning combo. You see it's not so hot that people give it 4-5 stars because everyone else does, or because it costs so much people feel bad about how much money they spent, and therefore, lead other people to go spend money there for bad food. You get it? It's a science using these internet review sites.

Now that I've given away my technique for finding local spots, let's move on to the food.

Fresh Spring Rolls
I remember the first time I had fresh spring rolls. It was a light bulb moment, an epiphany. At that moment, it made so much sense how to use mint. If you've never had fresh spring rolls, they are a thin rice paper egg roll of sorts filled with rice noodles, shrimp, pork, mint, carrots, and sometimes bean sprouts. The combination is a light appetizer with tons of great texture and flavors. They are usually served with any variety of dipping sauces. Here is a sweet chili sauce called mae ploy and a peanut sauce.

BBQ Pork and Shrimp
In my honest opinion, there are two things that the Vietnamese do exceedingly well. Those two things are grilled pork (pictured above) and pho (pictured below). The marinade is a mixture of sweetness with lemongrass and garlic and ginger maybe. It's so hard to tell and very distinctive of Viet. food. Since we had a huge bowl of pho coming our way we decided to get the rice dish instead of bun, the traditional vermicelli noodle version. Here the dish is served with some lettuce, pickled daikon and carrot, and rice.

Now it's a toss up between Japanese style ramen noodles and Vietnamese pho for my favorite noodle dishes. Generally, pho is cheaper and the portion size is huge leaving you extremely thirsty and way too full. While ramen noodles are packed full of rich complex flavors that leave you equally thirsty. And, I think that some things are left un-ranked.

If you've never had pho, go get some. Now. Pho is a rich beef broth based, vermicelli rice noodle soup. The flavors are all very light, and unoffensive. You'll taste some star anise and cinnamon along with a myriad of other flavors.

Extra Beef Tendon
One of my favorite parts of pho are the odd bits of meat and meat parts that are floating around in the rich beefy broth. Probably my favorite part is the beef tendon. Tendon is mostly textural and just adds a little edge to your palate. Don't judge it till you try it though. You may learn that you ALSO love beef tendon!

--Joe Kwon

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