The northeast corner of Sepulveda Blvd. and Victory Blvd. in Van Nuys is the veritable epicenter of Asian food for the San Fernando Valley. Four storefronts—a traditional Chinese medicine herbalist, the venerable Sam Woo Barbecue, Phở Số 1 Vietnamese restaurant, and the Chinese grocery store 99 Ranch Market—make this bustling intersection (and its always bustling parking lot) a one-stop shop for most of your edible Asian needs in the 818.
Unfortunately, I find this particular Sam Woo location tends to serve plates heavy on the grease, while the 99 Ranch Market here appears to be the bastard stepchild of the entire chain offering only the limpest of bok choy and the foggiest-eyed rock cod in town. This is why you’ll normally find me slurping up the #1 pho on Phở Số 1’s menu when I’m in the neighborhood, and not frequenting the other establishments nearly as much. Phở Số 1‘s big bowl of beef pho is my go-to and it never disappoints. The beef broth is rich and clear of fat and sediment. The thin slices of fresh steak, brisket, and flank combined with strips of tendon and tripe always hit the spot. But this can become routine when it’s the item I always get.
Therefore, to break out of my pho funk, on my last visit to Phở Số 1, I picked the cháo lòng heo, which is essentially a rice porridge piled high with pig guts. The roster of porcine innards includes intestine, tongue, and liver. The porridge has a chicken broth base, with rice that’s been cooked repeatedly in order to break it down into watery bits. While it was a soothing bowl, I was disappointed that the meats were unseasoned, and basically boiled before being unceremoniously dunked into the porridge. I was also surprised not to see any coagulated cubes of pork blood or forcemeat that might have helped boost the flavor, not to mention making the bowl a more traditional one.
The embellishment comes in the form of a plate of typical Vietnamese veggie garnishes—bean sprouts, jalapeños, and lime—that would also arrive with the pho. Additionally, a crispy, airy donut in the shape of a large churro (called giò cháo quẩy) is included for dipping or tearing up and tossing into the porridge. Since this hodgepodge of pork offal blends to pretty much taste like watered down liver, I recommend you mix a tiny concoction of sambal chile sauce and nước mắm fish sauce to go into the dish along with the veggies and fried dough.
All in all, it’s a nice bowl of porridge (especially on a cold day) and I’m glad I had the guts to order it, but next time I think I’ll stick to my beef pho stand-by and keep things delicious, even if it does make me predictable.