Silverlake has recently welcomed a new restaurant into the fold, in walking distance from almost anybody who calls the eastside neighborhood their home. Located at the corner of Sunset and Silverlake Blvd, Pho Cafe (2841 W. Sunset Blvd.) opened up a few months ago with relatively little fanfare. But the noodle house has become an instant hit, its minimal and clean design glowing thru the restaurant window during the night with a noticeable orange glow thanks to the mod seating (and check out those keen fishbowl lamps!). And like the mosquitos pulled in by the entrancing glow of your bugzapper hanging from your trailer home, the folks (with an undeniably noticeable high indie hipster count) come out in droves to get themselves a bowl of pho, cha gio (vietnamese egg rolls), or goi cuon (spring rolls). Everything is freshly made, with a visibly genuine vietnamese cooking staff, with a simple to navigate menu for those making their maiden voyage on the high seas of vietnamese cooking. Highly recommended is the banh xeo. An appetizer which could easily be a light dinner in itself, this is a delicious pan fried crepe (the pancake is made of rice flour, turmeric, coconut juice and spring onion) filled with meat or tofu, mushrooms and beansprouts, served alongside paper thin sliced circular sheets of rice paper, translucent like damp tracing paper. Throw in some sliced cucumber, a piece of crepe, julieened carrots, and some vietnamese herbs, then dip into a tasty peanut sauce, and what you experience is a delicious combination of a crunchy and soft, clean and starchy. I could easily and happily eat two of these in a sitting…and likely will one day in the near future.
What is disappointing is the pho, mostly because the broth is a flat note in flavour. Where an excellent bowl of pho is initially a simple flavour, with each spoonful its nuanced character begins to become more evident, and next thing you know you’re pushing the bowl upward to get every last drop of the beef broth. The pho here seems to be missing something that’s holding it back from being memorable. The rare beef is served too well cooked and is perhaps too lean to offer that tantalizing first bite that I look forward to enjoying with a bowl of pho. Also the portions are smaller than what I’m accustomed to, and the noodles were clumped together too much to enjoy in the hurried noodle eating fashion I practice. Next time I’ll try the chicken stock version, which comes with a garlic-ginger seasoning that might add a bit more complexity in flavour.
Overall, I give Pho Cafe a thumbs up for introducing a good alternative for late night dining within the borders of Silverlake/Los Feliz/Echo Park. There are a few better pho houses and vietnamese restaurants, but you won’t find a cleaner more aesthetically pleasing to the eye than this joint. Despite the overabundance of Converse All-Stars and Death Cab crowd attire, I’ll be back to give it another go next time I get a hunkering for some Vietnamese eats, especially since its vegetarian friendly for my Emily. And best of all, in walking distance of our flat!