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When it's too hot for soup at Pho Ca Dao

Summery dishes fit for outdoor dining on a summer day in Mission Valley

Lemongrass beef gỏi cuốn (summer rolls)
Lemongrass beef gỏi cuốn (summer rolls)

Ikea, Costco, Lowes. Even during a pandemic they draw throngs of shoppers to their corner of Mission Valley. My car eked along with the slow moving traffic of their massive, shared parking lot, a million square feet of asphalt, from which waves of heat could be seen rising to meet the searing midday sun.

Place

Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen

2647 Fenton Pkwy #D104, San Diego

Eventually I made it to Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen, the latest location in a growing chain of family-owned Vietnamese restaurants. The first opened in a shuttered City Heights Arby’s nearly two decades ago, and while its phở menu has fueled its expansion to seven properties, from Rancho Bernardo to Santee to Chula Vista, that’s not what brought me this day. It was too hot for the aromatic noodle soup.

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The patio at Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen, Mission Valley

Despite its name, Pho Ca Dao has greatly expanded its menus over the years to include a variety of Vietnamese dishes, and this Mission Valley location offers the most extensive menu, including regional specialties such as seafood udon soup and anise beef stew. But yeah, it was too hot for those too.

Fortunately, many Vietnamese dishes are designed to be especially desirable in the summer heat. As an added benefit for those of us seeking refuge from the excesses of Costco size capitalism, this Pho Ca Dao is equipped with a full bar.

Parking spaces converted to outdoor seating at Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen, Mission Valley

Not many have had a chance to visit that bar though, as this location opened in early March, just before on-premise dining shut down for more than two months due to the pandemic. Fortunately, it’s equipped with a spacious covered patio, so despite indoor dining in San Diego being once again banned due to a resurgent coronavirus, we were able to grab a socially distanced table. In the event the patio fills up, the restaurant has taken over a few nearby parking spaces, and with the help of astroturf and shade structures, set up several tables of additional seating.

Grilled pork bánh mì

Everything was much cooler in the shade, but cold menu items were still what we were after, beginning with gỏi cuốn, the fresh spring rolls (a.k.a. summer rolls) on the menu. Choices include poached pork and shrimp rolls, and “surf and turf” rolls of grilled shrimp and beef. But they may be ordered with a choice of proteins, so we settled on the lemongrass beef — not as common a find, but dare I say more satisfying than a burger on a day like this, wrapped in moist rice paper with cold noodles, fresh greens, and pickled veggies, with peanut sauce to dip them in.

Bun, cold noodle salad with grilled chicken and Vietnamese sausage

A sort of alternate take, without the wrapper, is the bun noodle salad. Here, our cold noodles over leafy greens were topped with pickled veggies, crushed peanuts, and a mix of grilled chicken and Vietnamese pork sausage. It’s a salad for people who don’t like salad, meaty yet cool.

I couldn’t resist leaving without a grilled pork bánh mì. It was a tad less greasy or pungent than most of my favorite bánh mì sandwiches in town, but like the beef, chicken, and sausage, the pork was well executed and flavorful. Something Pho Ca Dao does well is make Vietnamese food appealing to a broader audience than one might see patronizing restaurants in Little Saigon. Which makes this new Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen location an excellent entry point for those newer to the cuisine. Costco members, perhaps, or Ikea shoppers who find it too hot for Swedish meatballs.

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Lemongrass beef gỏi cuốn (summer rolls)
Lemongrass beef gỏi cuốn (summer rolls)

Ikea, Costco, Lowes. Even during a pandemic they draw throngs of shoppers to their corner of Mission Valley. My car eked along with the slow moving traffic of their massive, shared parking lot, a million square feet of asphalt, from which waves of heat could be seen rising to meet the searing midday sun.

Place

Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen

2647 Fenton Pkwy #D104, San Diego

Eventually I made it to Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen, the latest location in a growing chain of family-owned Vietnamese restaurants. The first opened in a shuttered City Heights Arby’s nearly two decades ago, and while its phở menu has fueled its expansion to seven properties, from Rancho Bernardo to Santee to Chula Vista, that’s not what brought me this day. It was too hot for the aromatic noodle soup.

Sponsored
Sponsored
The patio at Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen, Mission Valley

Despite its name, Pho Ca Dao has greatly expanded its menus over the years to include a variety of Vietnamese dishes, and this Mission Valley location offers the most extensive menu, including regional specialties such as seafood udon soup and anise beef stew. But yeah, it was too hot for those too.

Fortunately, many Vietnamese dishes are designed to be especially desirable in the summer heat. As an added benefit for those of us seeking refuge from the excesses of Costco size capitalism, this Pho Ca Dao is equipped with a full bar.

Parking spaces converted to outdoor seating at Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen, Mission Valley

Not many have had a chance to visit that bar though, as this location opened in early March, just before on-premise dining shut down for more than two months due to the pandemic. Fortunately, it’s equipped with a spacious covered patio, so despite indoor dining in San Diego being once again banned due to a resurgent coronavirus, we were able to grab a socially distanced table. In the event the patio fills up, the restaurant has taken over a few nearby parking spaces, and with the help of astroturf and shade structures, set up several tables of additional seating.

Grilled pork bánh mì

Everything was much cooler in the shade, but cold menu items were still what we were after, beginning with gỏi cuốn, the fresh spring rolls (a.k.a. summer rolls) on the menu. Choices include poached pork and shrimp rolls, and “surf and turf” rolls of grilled shrimp and beef. But they may be ordered with a choice of proteins, so we settled on the lemongrass beef — not as common a find, but dare I say more satisfying than a burger on a day like this, wrapped in moist rice paper with cold noodles, fresh greens, and pickled veggies, with peanut sauce to dip them in.

Bun, cold noodle salad with grilled chicken and Vietnamese sausage

A sort of alternate take, without the wrapper, is the bun noodle salad. Here, our cold noodles over leafy greens were topped with pickled veggies, crushed peanuts, and a mix of grilled chicken and Vietnamese pork sausage. It’s a salad for people who don’t like salad, meaty yet cool.

I couldn’t resist leaving without a grilled pork bánh mì. It was a tad less greasy or pungent than most of my favorite bánh mì sandwiches in town, but like the beef, chicken, and sausage, the pork was well executed and flavorful. Something Pho Ca Dao does well is make Vietnamese food appealing to a broader audience than one might see patronizing restaurants in Little Saigon. Which makes this new Pho Ca Dao Vietnamese Kitchen location an excellent entry point for those newer to the cuisine. Costco members, perhaps, or Ikea shoppers who find it too hot for Swedish meatballs.

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