My recent travels through Southern California had us passing through San Diego several times, and that was particularly nice, since San Diego has one of the larger Vietnamese communities in the US, and thus has quite an assortment of good Vietnamese restaurants. We were particularly craving some Pho, and courtesy of my friend Dennis over at A Radiused Corner, I had rather a nice selection of reviews of local San Diego places, settling on Pho Lucky (you can read one of Dennis’ reviews here).
Pho Lucky is located inside of Lucky Seafood, just off of I-15 in San Diego’s Mira Mesa neighborhood, a short drive from Los Peñasquitos Canyon, which is one of my favorite San Diego area hikes. You won’t see the place obviously advertised, since it is actually inside the Lucky Seafood Supermarket (although, looking at the front of the market, if you go in on the left side, those doors take you directly inside). Once inside, it’s actually one of the more pleasant Pho shops I’ve been in (most Pho places seem to have all the ambiance of an office supply store), with a nice clean interior and a pleasant decor.
The menu at Pho Lucky is your standard Pho joint menu, with a rich selection of just about every standard pho combination (including Pho Ga, with chicken), as well as a good collection of rice (com) dishes and cold rice noodle (bun) dishes. Like usually, I fretted entirely too much over my standard orders, which are Pho Tai Gan (beef noodle soup with rare beef and tendon) or Bun Cha Giao Thit Nuong (cold noodles with bbq pork and chopped egg rolls). I opted for the former, as well as a nice glass of Vietnamese Lemonade.
Both the egg rolls and the spring rolls were nicely done. The classic way of serving up Vietnamese egg rolls is to serve them with lettuce, which you can wrap around individual chunks of the rolls before dipping in the nuoc cham, but all too often places I end up going skimp on that, but Pho Lucky served them up with plenty of fresh, crisp, and clean lettuce. The spring rolls were also nice, with a good amount of both shrimp and shredded pork, and a nicely steamed wrapper that was soft without being too rubbery.
Moving on to the main course, one thing I really liked about Pho Lucky is that they don’t skimp on the garnish plate that comes with the pho. The plate was piled high with very fresh sprouts and basil, and they actually used proper birdseye peppers alongside the jalapenos. Another pleasant this is that they actually provide Ngo Gai, or culantro, one of the fairly standard Vietnamese pho accompaniments, but a fairly rare one in most US pho restaurants due to it’s relative scarcity in the US marketplace. Sometimes called “long cilantro”, it’s a rather interesting herb, with a taste that I consider partway between cilantro and basil. And it’s the perfect additive to a good pho. Overall, a great start to the pho.
The pho itself? Excellent. The broth was one of the standouts, with a very noticeable amount of spicing, particularly rich with the star anise flavor I love, that combined with the ngo gai made for a pleasant and well-flavored experience (my brother and sister-in-law noted that it was particularly different from the typical broth of London’s several Pho places in Shoreditch). Also, the tendon was particularly nicely butchered and well simmered here: often it’s slightly gummy bits, but here it was nice and firm and flavorful beefy tendon bits. Added all up, this was probably the nicest bowl of pho I’ve had in a while.
Another great attraction to Pho Lucky turned out to be the price tag. We had six adults and two kids (eating from the adults’ plates), and with a bowl of pho or a com (rice) dish for everyone, and several orders of spring rolls and fried egg rolls for the table, and our bill didn’t even break $50. Not bad for a filling and delicious lunch. It will probably be a while before I’m next looking for Vietnamese in the greater San Diego area, but if I am, I think it will be hard to beat Pho Lucky.