Published on December 6th, 2012 | by Gary Rice0
UnPHOgettable Egg Rolls @ Pho Fifth Avenue
Pho Fifth Avenue Restaurant Review
Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai cuisine options are in vast abundance in San Diego’s Hillcrest area. Indeed, our gayborhood loves its casual, Asian dining destinations, and you’ll undoubtedly find one of them on practically every street corner if you’re sauntering through the hood. However, when one is plagued with a fierce yearning for good Vietnamese egg rolls (Chả Giò), choosing among so many places can be an arduous task, and a risky one, to say the least. Why risky? Because egg roll recipes differ from place to place, and no one restaurant employs the same recipe. Since living in the downtown area, I’ve stuffed scores upon scores of those fried, rolled-up sticks of goodness in my face and never encountered one that I considered to be necessarily awe-inspiring. That all changed this past weekend when a little bird told me that Pho Fifth Avenue was turning out some of the best egg rolls in the city.
Located on Fifth near the busy corner of University, we descended upon Pho Fifth Avenue around 6:30pm on a Sunday evening and found the space to be positively buzzing with activity. Every table was occupied, and pho was being enthusiastically slurped down so fast that the waiters seemingly couldn’t clear away the empty bowls fast enough. Although I’m a stickler for table manners and etiquette, I can’t help but be encouraged when I notice individuals enjoying their food so much that they feel compelled to shelve basic dining decorum. For example, I observed one gentleman—and I employ that term loosely—audaciously lift a bowl of pho to his mouth, without any inhibition, to unabashedly tongue its surface clean. After voyeuristically taking in that disturbing scene in the dining room I knew that Pho Fifth Avenue had to be doing something spectacular.
To Whet Your Appetite
While all signs point towards Pho Fifth Avenue being an ideal spot to get your pho on, it’s not typically a favorite of mine; therefore, I bring you back to my original reason for being there in the first place: the egg rolls. And, so, that’s precisely what we immediately started with.
* Egg Rolls ($6): Knowing our past proclivities to swoop in upon and devour them in nothing flat, we opted to request the large order, the quantity of six (6). The rolls are served piping hot, composed of ground pork, shrimp, clear noodles, carrots and mushrooms, all ingredients that were fresh beyond belief. They are served with fresh lettuce leaves and mint, thereby enabling you to wrap each roll to your liking. Each bite was an explosion of flavor, and the fresh quality of the vegetables temporarily lulled me into the false belief that I was actually consuming something healthy. Without a doubt, these egg rolls live up to the hype and may very well be some of the best I’ve encountered.
* Grilled Pork & Egg Roll Combo ($7.50): As if consuming a number of egg rolls as an appetizer wasn’t enough to quell my hunger pangs, I decided upon a vermicelli rice noodle dish that, of course, came with a small serving of egg rolls. Served in a large bowl, the noodles and pork are accompanied by shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers, carrots and daikon radish. Unfortunately, this was the least successful dish of the night. The noodles were immensely dry, and when combined with the plethora of vegetables, the dish was left to rely on the pork and lime fish sauce to tie it together. Sadly, it never really happened. The sauce, while good, was just not enough to supply the missing texture it required. It felt like I was masticating a forkful of dry weeds upon each bite. Not pleasant. Notwithstanding, the additional serving of egg rolls that it came with were divine, thereby salvaging the entree from being an unmitigated disappointment.
* Bahn Mi BBQ Pork Sandwich ($4): Not bad, overall. The bread is served lightly toasted and, moreover, it’s evident that they take great care in ensuring that it’s fresh. The pork is succulent and flavorful. The carrots, cilantro and cucumber all contribute to that necessary fresh, contrasting crunch that sets the infamous Bahn Mi apart from all others. Bahn Mi interpretations are in abundance, and the hardcore minimalists out there argue that the natural flavors of the ingredients should suffice in making a memorable sandwich, without the need for a sauce or condiment. I don’t necessarily agree. If a Bahn Mi is going to be served on a toasted sandwich roll it requires a contrasting texture that will marry its individual components together. A light mayo (wasabi is my preference), Dijon, or some other appropriate spread will typically suffice. So, because I’m anal about these things, the only quibble I have over my Bahn Mi was that it had no form of condiment present, thereby making it somewhat dry.
In spite of the busy atmosphere, the wait staff does a decent job tending to tables in an expeditious fashion. Orders are brought out timely, thereby ensuring that those that arrive with impatient tummies aren’t tortured for too long. Given the area and type of cuisine, I believe the prices are right on point. I can’t imagine any couple walking out of the restaurant spending more than $30 for dinner.
While Pho Fifth Avenue may not have delivered on all of my selections, it did deliver on the one that counted the most: the egg rolls. I will gladly put their roll in my willing mouth anytime.
Pho Fifth Avenue
3807 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103