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Grandpa Tao Kitchen’s beefed-up broth

Ten hours of simmering tribute to a carp-riding kitchen god

Rare beef phở, in a clear, ten-hour broth
Rare beef phở, in a clear, ten-hour broth

Thank the kitchen god, our days of mediocre phở have come to an end.

Place

Grandpa Táo Kitchen

1190 N 2nd St, El Cajon

One year ago, my family moved from central San Diego to East County. Though we occasionally miss the walkability of our old, urban neighborhood, the dearth of quality phở has proven our most challenging adjustment. The noodle soup is the preferred comfort food of my Vietnamese-American wife, so I’ve come to view any break of bad news, chilly weather, or malaise as opportunity to try out one of many phở shops nearby.

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There’ve been more than a few such days, and we’ve tried more than a few local shops — none worthy of a repeat visit. Until the arrival of Grandpa Táo Kitchen.

A small restaurant on 2nd Street, El Cajon

Note that the place is not called Grandpa Táo’s Kitchen. As the staff pointed out to me, Grandpa Táo is not the business owner, but a nickname of the Vietnamese kitchen god. At the beginning of Vietnam’s annual Tet (lunar New Year) holiday, tradition holds that households burn paper votives in tribute to Ông Táo, a unique, mythic character said to wear rubber boots and ride a carp to heaven at the end of each year to report on each families’ earthly goings-on to the Jade Emperor deity.

Which sounds like a pretty wild tradition to someone who grew up leaving cookies out for the portly, bearded man in a red suit who climbs in through a chimney in the middle of the night. But I digress…

BBQ pork spring rolls

Grandpa Táo opened a few weeks ago, in the former El Cajon location of Kip’s Café, a Chinese restaurant that recently closed due to retirement after some 65 years doing business at multiple locations in El Cajon, plus a brief sojourn in Hillcrest. Kip’s had added a sushi component at some point, and Grandpa Táo keeps that going with a limited menu of maki rolls. However, we happily stuck to the more robust, Vietnamese menu. Because, aside from such items as bread and noodles, it’s made from scratch.

In the case of its $10-14 phở, that means broth that spent ten hours drawing flavor from beef bones and brisket, plus onions, ginger, and aromatic spices. We spent the past year tasting what comes from a quick and easy approach to phở, and this tasty, clear broth is nearly good enough to right all those wrongs.

BBQ chicken bahn mi

Grandpa Táo prepares its own meats and pickled vegetables, too, which yields a satisfying $7-8 bánh mì , as well. All the standards are there: spring rolls ($6.50), bun vermicelli noodle salads ($11-12) , and shaking beef ($14), each offering protein choices of BBQ pork, chicken, beef. shrimp, and tofu.

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Rare beef phở, in a clear, ten-hour broth
Rare beef phở, in a clear, ten-hour broth

Thank the kitchen god, our days of mediocre phở have come to an end.

Place

Grandpa Táo Kitchen

1190 N 2nd St, El Cajon

One year ago, my family moved from central San Diego to East County. Though we occasionally miss the walkability of our old, urban neighborhood, the dearth of quality phở has proven our most challenging adjustment. The noodle soup is the preferred comfort food of my Vietnamese-American wife, so I’ve come to view any break of bad news, chilly weather, or malaise as opportunity to try out one of many phở shops nearby.

Sponsored
Sponsored

There’ve been more than a few such days, and we’ve tried more than a few local shops — none worthy of a repeat visit. Until the arrival of Grandpa Táo Kitchen.

A small restaurant on 2nd Street, El Cajon

Note that the place is not called Grandpa Táo’s Kitchen. As the staff pointed out to me, Grandpa Táo is not the business owner, but a nickname of the Vietnamese kitchen god. At the beginning of Vietnam’s annual Tet (lunar New Year) holiday, tradition holds that households burn paper votives in tribute to Ông Táo, a unique, mythic character said to wear rubber boots and ride a carp to heaven at the end of each year to report on each families’ earthly goings-on to the Jade Emperor deity.

Which sounds like a pretty wild tradition to someone who grew up leaving cookies out for the portly, bearded man in a red suit who climbs in through a chimney in the middle of the night. But I digress…

BBQ pork spring rolls

Grandpa Táo opened a few weeks ago, in the former El Cajon location of Kip’s Café, a Chinese restaurant that recently closed due to retirement after some 65 years doing business at multiple locations in El Cajon, plus a brief sojourn in Hillcrest. Kip’s had added a sushi component at some point, and Grandpa Táo keeps that going with a limited menu of maki rolls. However, we happily stuck to the more robust, Vietnamese menu. Because, aside from such items as bread and noodles, it’s made from scratch.

In the case of its $10-14 phở, that means broth that spent ten hours drawing flavor from beef bones and brisket, plus onions, ginger, and aromatic spices. We spent the past year tasting what comes from a quick and easy approach to phở, and this tasty, clear broth is nearly good enough to right all those wrongs.

BBQ chicken bahn mi

Grandpa Táo prepares its own meats and pickled vegetables, too, which yields a satisfying $7-8 bánh mì , as well. All the standards are there: spring rolls ($6.50), bun vermicelli noodle salads ($11-12) , and shaking beef ($14), each offering protein choices of BBQ pork, chicken, beef. shrimp, and tofu.

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