Sometimes – a lot of the times, actually – I don’t prefer pho. It took me a little while to come out and just admit this, because the follow-up is always, “But you’re Vietnamese!” Accusations aside, this is a relatively recent confession: a few months ago, I suggested to my mom that we get pho for dinner. Her exact words were: “AUGH not pho, I don’t like pho that much.” All of a sudden, the CFL light bulb turned on (slowly), and I realized, I too, can freely admit that I don’t like pho as much as everyone presumes I should. Don’t get me wrong – the piping hot soup definitely hits the spot at certain times: late nights, or as breakfast on a cold or hungover morning. But, as a general rule, you’re more likely to find me slurping up a big bowl of bun thit nuong rather than a big bowl of pho.
Golden Deli, in the heart of San Gabriel Valley, is supposed to be the best Vietnamese place this side of Orange County, and it really is really good (I haven’t tried enough of the Vietnamese joints in the SGV to make a judgment call – yet). A page or two of the menu is dedicated to pho; if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, skip a few subheadings down to Bun – Rice Vermicelli. Right there, you’ll find number 34, Bun Thit Nuong: charbroiled pork atop cold rice noodles (vermicelli), which itself sits on a bed of crispy lettuce, carrots, and other veggies. It seems like such a simple dish, but it nonetheless is hard to get exactly right: the pork can’t be too fatty, the noodles can’t be too thick, and the bowl can’t be too overwhelmed by the greens. Golden Deli’s version avoids all these dealbreakers. And it’s only $4.75(!!!).
On some days, I get the dish with egg rolls – number 35, Bun Thit Nuong & Cha Gio (only two quarters more than the bowl without the cha gio). The egg rolls come paired and are pre-cut into bite-sized pieces for you. The egg rolls aren’t nearly as good as my mom’s, but they are still delicious. (The difference between a Vietnamese egg roll and a Chinese one, by the by, is that where Chinese egg rolls are stuffed mostly with cabbage and other veggies and are rolled in a thick, wheat-based wrapper, the Vietnamese version minces meat and veggies more finely and rolls the mixture in a thinner and decidedly more delicate rice paper wrapper. I think a Vietnamese egg roll beats a Chinese one any day of the week. You think I’m biased, but I’m really not.). The bowl comes with a side of fish sauce – nuoc cham – which you are to pour, liberally, onto your pork and noodles.
For those looking to look beyond pho, this is a great starter: there’s nothing inherently unfamiliar in here, and it is distinctly Vietnamese. C’mon, you can do it. You can thank me later.
815 W. Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel Valley
Sunday: 9am – 9:30pm
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 9:30am – 9:00pm (note that they are closed on Wednesdays!!)
Friday: 9:30am – 10:00pm
Saturday: 9:00am – 10:00pm