The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

Pho Minh: Tradition and Flavor in Every Bowl

Join Contributing Staff Writer Sky Ueki on a journey to try a hole-in-a-wall pho restaurant along El Cajon Boulevard.
Pho+Minh%3A+Tradition+and+Flavor+in+Every+Bowl
Image by Sky Ueki for The UCSD Guardian

Nước ph. It’s all about the broth. 

While hundreds of places serve pho in San Diego, one small shop stands apart from the rest.

The difference? Their broth. 

Tucked away between 47th and 48th Street in a run-down strip mall on El Cajon Boulevard, Pho Minh has been serving unparalleled beef broth with their pho for over a decade now. After selling their original location in Spring Valley, this family-owned restaurant opened at this parlor in the Little Saigon district three years ago.

Chef “Uncle Tram” is the mastermind behind the kitchen’s vast menu selections but he takes special care of his pho broth. Before opening Pho Minh, Tram worked in a variety of well-regarded kitchens. Over the years, he developed his own secret stock recipe that can be only found at Pho Minh. The process is top secret. Even the co-owner, his sister, is only allowed to view part of the preparation. 

The bone broth itself has a beautiful depth and heart without being burdensome on the pallet. With its gingery and caramelized notes, the stock is comforting and somehow familiar in the way a hot soup warms you like a hug on a cold day. It is clean and focused, soothing all worries away and relaxing your body while stimulating your tastebuds. 

Tram’s niece told me she often sees him laboring over the pot all day, skimming the foam and marrow fat impurities that rise. A typical pho shop only cooks the broth for 3-5 hours, but Pho Minh’s pot allegedly simmers for more than 10-12 hours per batch. 

Image by Sky Ueki

The most popular item on the menu, their pho da biet is standard for South Vietnamese pho — miscellaneous cuts of meat from rare beef to tripe thrown into the bowl. You can also add your own personalized cuts of meat, beef brisket and meatballs being personal favorites. Paired with a healthy pile of fresh basil, limes, and bean sprouts (I personally ask for mine boiled), the $13 regular-size bowl is a substantial meal. 

Beyond their signature pho, Pho Minh’s menu also offers a variety of traditional dishes. For an appetizer, the fried calamari is hard to beat. With a tempura-like texture, the dish comes on a bed of crispy lettuce topped with locally grown jalapeno, scallions, and garlic chips. If you still need more, their juicy chicken wings come with enough to share.

The culinary range of the kitchen is also impressive, showcasing dishes rare to Vietnamese restaurants in San Diego. Novelty specials like the Bot Chien, a dish made with turnip that originates from Chinese influence, are a unique twist on the traditional rice cakes. A vibrant Mi Quang, a turmeric-based noodle pour over, is also something you don’t see around often. The “specialty noodles” section on their menu, which includes Hu Tieu Nam Vang and Bun Rieu, also seems popular with locals visiting from the laundromat next door and employees from neighboring pho shops that can’t order these dishes elsewhere.

Image by Sky Ueki

Vegetarian options are also plentiful. Special highlights include the Goi Cuon Chay (spring rolls) and Pho Chay (noodles, tofu, and a host of vegetables in the same broth). While the vegan options are limited, the Pho Chay can be made vegan, and the Xao Chay and Bun Chay come with options for friend tofu and mock duck. Beware that some dishes are cooked with sauces and ingredients that do not have vegan substitutions.  

Pho Minh’s location is its largest drawback. With limited parking and a small interior, Pho Minh does not have much space to expand. The restaurant is easy to overlook, with large established competitors like Pho Hao and Pho Cao Dao a couple hundred feet away. According to Tram’s niece, their clientele is mainly built through happenstance. Returning customers are those (like me) who were brave enough to wander in and fell in love. Chef Uncle Tram and his family are newcomers to the territory, and their fate in this location is still unknown.

The family also operates a Pho Minh location in Pacific Beach. Although I have yet to thoroughly review their consistency, that location offers a pared down version of the menu, leaving behind the specialty noodles and Bot Chien among other items. 

In a world where much of our lives is rushed and fast-paced, Pho Minh stands out for its authenticity and passion. Chef Uncle Tram takes the time to make this sacred broth the right way — I propose we enjoy it with the same spirit. Let us slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures through a bowl of delicious pho. Cheers!

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Sky Ueki, Contributing Staff Writer
A philosophy student by trade, Sky Ueki was born and raised in Japan where he learned his love for food. He's often found in the kitchen, passionately debating with his tomatoes in loud, spirited exchanges.
More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$2320
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$2320
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The UCSD Guardian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *