In Eater LA’s new series, Highly Opinionated, Eater editors delve into one specific, oft-debated food obsession in Los Angeles. This month dives into a cold-weather (for LA) appropriate food: pho. A credit to Vietnamese immigrants and chefs who prepare a long-simmered broth with beef bones, pho has become one of America’s favorite foods. The all-day comfort dish has recently become specialized with different beef varieties and higher quality meat.
Pho has predictably captured the hearts and stomachs of Angelenos and Southern California residents, with countless places across the region serving the piping hot noodle soup. In particular, Little Saigon and its environs contain some of the finest pho specialists in the country, including the iconic Pho 79, which was designated a James Beard America’s Classic in 2019. Here now, this writer’s favorite pho places in Los Angeles and Orange County, broken down Wirecutter-style with a top pick, two alternates, and a short list of other solid choices in Southern California.
Why you should trust me: I don’t often admit it but I was born in Orange County, not far from Little Saigon. My parents were huge fans of pho, so I grew up eating it in Garden Grove/Westminster and later in LA’s Koreatown (which has a surprising number of pho spots) when we moved north. Through the years, it’s been one of my favorite foods and is something I eat once or twice a month, sometimes as often as every week. My family will make the half-hour trip down to Little Saigon midweek without hesitation. I’ve had plenty of pho outside of LA — in San Jose, Seattle, and Chicago — but I’m most fascinated by the overall excellence of pho in Southern California.
A note about eating pho
Look, I’m not here to tell you how to eat your food, but let’s understand a few things about what makes pho so great. The broth is the main attraction and something that takes hours upon hours to build its nuanced flavor. The blend of spices and aromatics, the intensity of beef flavor, and the incorporation of just the right amount of other ingredients, like fish sauce, are all meant to make the broth the star, so don’t spoil it by adding hoisin and sriracha immediately; those condiments are typically reserved for dipping meat into.
Garnishes like bean sprouts, basil, onions, sawtooth herb, jalapeno, lime, and ngo om (rice paddy herb) are all meant to add flavor, texture, and aromatic contrast. Personally, I like loading up on the bean sprouts, hand-picking basil and ngo om (if available), and dropping in a few jalapeno slivers for spice. After I’m maybe a quarter into the bowl, I’ll squeeze in some lime to cut through the richness of the beef. Some folks add in even more thinly sliced onions, though I generally don’t.
A note about Northern- vs. Southern-style pho
Generally speaking, northern-style pho is more focused on the broth, with just a few slices of rare steak swimming in a somewhat lighter broth. Meanwhile, southern-style pho incorporates more cuts like tendon, tripe, brisket, and flank amid a sweeter broth. There’s some variance in noodles between northern and southern styles as well, with the former sometimes using wider rice noodles. American restaurants typically offer more southern-style pho, with its heaping bowls full of beef cuts, sprouts, and basil. In LA, most places don’t overtly distinguish which style they serve, with a few exceptions, like Pho Ngoon, which boasts a Hanoi/northern-style pho.
The overall favorite: Pho Redbo
Previously called Pho Akaushi, this relative newcomer opened in early 2021 in Garden Grove before a chef-partner dispute led to a rebranding. (A second location opened this past summer in Artesia along bustling South Street.) Akaushi is a breed of American-raised wagyu with similar characters to its Japanese counterpart, offering profound flavor complemented by buttery-rich marbling. Pho Redbo’s Akaushi is raised in Texas, and the meat is one of the reasons why this is my favorite pho in the Southland.
Bowls here are modestly sized and cost $17, which might seem like a deterrent for pho fans who are used to huge portions priced around $10. But the quality is apparent on the first sip: A rich, beefy broth lets the flavor of the meat sing before progressing to the mellower tones of sweet burnt onion and gentle spices of star anise and clove. The broth’s complexity has the effect of well-aged wine, exuding layers of fat and savory depth that don’t rely on the umami hits of fish sauce, though a bottle of nuoc mam sits on the table if anyone wants to amplify their soup’s flavor.
The kitchen tops each bowl with razor-thin white onions, chopped cilantro and green onions, and finally, a crush of black pepper, all of which complement the other important part of this dish: the beef. The combination bowl comes with melt-in-your-mouth chunks of rib-ends, tender slices of rare steak, some fatty but not overly chewy brisket, and meatballs. The textural contrast of each meat dipped into one’s preferred blend of hoisin and sriracha is a reminder of this pho's unalloyed pleasure. 11700 South Street, Suite 108, Artesia and 7725 Garden Grove Boulevard, Garden Grove.
The closer wagyu pho restaurant for Angelenos: Phorage
LA’s longtime washugyu (another brand of American-grown wagyu) beef specialist, Phorage, continues to churn out fantastic, aromatic bowls of pho in Palms and at its newer West Hollywood location. Chef Perry Cheung, previously of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, relies only on fish sauce and other natural umami elements, which give the broth a greater level of savoriness. Slices of tender rare beef are the main meat option, though more ambitious diners can get the upscale oxtail pho, which comes with the added fun of gnawing on bones and picking out choice morsels. Otherwise, the soup here, which comes with standard toppings of basil, sprouts, and condiments, amounts to a very solid, consistently delicious bowl of pho. 3300 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles and 7326 Santa Monica Boulevard #10, Los Angeles.
A solid San Gabriel Valley option: Pho Ngoon
SGV’s standout pho spot, Pho Ngoon, serves Hanoi-style soup in its busy strip mall location with an approach that sticks to the basics: There are both rare rib-eye and filet mignon choices, plus a custom combination option that could include flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe. The 24-hour broth boasts a superb balance of aromatics and beefy intensity with a hint of umami. Pho Ngoon is the best pho choice for anyone east of Downtown LA. 741 East Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel.