I don’t often suffer from hangovers — as a pro, I know how to pace myself. But every once in a while a night gets away from me, and I imbibe more booze than water, or more wine than food, leaving me in a world of pain the following morning. One of the few things that can bring me back to life is a good bowl of ramen or pho. Unfortunately, there are few places serving up either at 10:30 am on a Saturday morning, which is when, on this dumb hangover day, I needed it most. Enter David, my personal restaurant finder, the Jeeves to my Wooster. He came up with a place we’d never been to before, Pho Hoa, that was just over a mile from our place, and open at 7am all the way through closing at 8 or 9pm every day.
4717 El Cajon Boulevard, City Heights
I had barely passed through the door when a man handed us menus and gestured at a table to our left. When it comes to pho, I usually opt for egg noodles and chicken. It wasn’t until we took a look at the menu that David remembered “hoa” means “beef.” And that’s pretty much what you get when you walk into Pho Hoa. This no-nonsense place doesn’t distract you with spring rolls, rice dishes, or even chicken-based soups. What they do have is 24 options of beef you can have in your pho, such as flank, brisket, tripe, beef balls, beef cube, even pizzle. I opted for the classic rare steak, paper-thin slices of beef that cook in the bowl ($6.95).
The bowls arrived as swiftly as the menus had — I don’t think a full minute passed from the time we placed our order to the time those bowls were on the table. Then again, time travels at a different speed when you’re out of sorts. We received all the usual fixings: bean sprouts, basil, mint, jalapeno slices, and lime wedges. The broth was rich, with the perfect amount of salt to enhance the umami base. The meat was tender and lean, just how I like it.
To complement the savory with a bit of sweet, and help resuscitate me with a little caffeine, I also ordered a Thai iced tea with boba ($3.50). As I sat there, vacillating between spoonfulls of hot, lime-scented beef broth and cool, sweet milk tea, I found myself sitting up straighter and straighter until suddenly, I smiled. “There you are,” David said, clearly happy to see me feeling better.
The space resembles a high school cafeteria, with long communal tables and not much else going on. When you do only one thing, it makes sense that you’d do it well, and I’m glad to report that I very much enjoyed my pho here. Specializing in only one dish is also why things moved so fast. Within 20 minutes of our arrival, we were back on the street and ready to face the day with happy tummies and clear heads.