Kobe Beef Pho from Noodle Guy

If it were west of the 5 freeway, a Vietnamese restaurant that serves kobe beef pho would be a sign of gentrification. But since it’s on the other side, in the San Gabriel Valley to be exact, it’s a sign of something different. Some would say it’s the sign of the rising upper middle class with the disposable income to order a $10+ bowl of pho. I would say it’s the sign of people who live in the SGV willing to pay a little extra for higher quality food.

Noodle Guy sits in the space that used to be Mei Lin Tou Jiang. The now defunct soymilk and northern Chinese breakfast place has been remodeled with vinyl booths lining the windowed walls and a state of the art POS system that the trendy young waiters use to punch in your order.

noodle guy

Typically, I’m wary of things more high tech than a pen and a pad of scrap paper at a restaurant in the SGV, but those fears were put aside when the big bowl of pho was brought to me. I ordered the ubiquitous #1 pho bowl, which my dad refers to as the “train engine car” because that’s what you feel like hit you after finishing that bowl. Although it’s not mentioned on the menu, you can ask for a substitution of kobe beef instead of regular beef for the price of practically another bowl of pho.

#1 comes with slices of beef, plenty of tendon, crispy, and chewy tripe (my favorite!). The rice noodles at Noodle Guy are wider than the usual ones served in pho, but not as wide as say, the rice noodles in pad see ew. The thicker noodles make sense because the broth is so rich and has such a creamy mouth feel, thanks to the tendon and other morsels melting into it, that a thinner noodle would do a poor job of complimenting the soup.


So is the extra charge for kobe beef worth it? Well, when I first heard about it, I thought it was a waste of kobe beef. Then I thought it was gimmicky. But after my first bite of the thinly sliced, barely cooked, premium beef in my bowl of soup, I was singing a different tune. The beef was tender without being mushy and had a particular taste that I hadn’t had before in the usual bowl of pho. It was beefy, but not in an artificial or perverse way. It tasted like a farm — fresh air, green fields, dirt path, everything. This was a good thing.

Would I order the pho with kobe beef again? Unless I were really hankering for it, probably not. That’s not to say the beef wasn’t good. It was very, very good. But so was everything else. The broth was spicy with anise and carmelized onion. The noodles were perfectly cooked and still had a nice chew for rice noodles. The tendon was buttery and melted in my mouth. The tripe was easily chewable and not overcooked. The bowl was perfect without the need for kobe beef.

1257 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
Neighborhood: Alhambra
(626) 284-1868

Thuyen Vien at Their Anaheim Location

When Thuyen Vien closed its doors last year, I was sad to see one of the better veggie Vietnamese places go.  Luckily, the close was just temporary — they relocated to a similar spot in Anaheim. The new location looks very familiar.  The layout is reminiscent of the previous location, and the friendly, helpful owner was there to give suggestions and take our orders.

We started off with fried eggrolls, which arrived hot and perfectly crisp.  The filling was hearty and savory and went well with the faux fish sauce dip.  Last time, I complained that there weren’t any pickled carrots in the sauce — no complaints this time.


I ordered a bowl of bun rieu, which some may say is a risky move since the flavor of crab is what makes the broth.  I wasn’t expecting something particularly crabby in this vegetarian rendition, so I was fairly pleased.  The broth was full of tomatoey goodness and I liked that my plate of herbs came with thin slices of banana blossoms which lends the soup a nice, crunchy texture.  The soft crab meatballs were substituted for pillowy, porous tofu in this version, which I thought made perfect sense.


Will ordered beef pho which was decent, but too aromatic this time. We both preferred the beef pho at the old location. This broth had a bit too much cinnamon and suffered from being too sweet — something that a lot of veggie Vietnamese places have in common.


For dessert, there’s really only one option: flan in all its rich, sweet, decadent glory.


We’re both happy that Thuyen Vien re-opened, but like last time, we left the restaurant sad that it was so far from Los Angeles.
Thuyen Vien
1740 S Euclid St
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 490-0242

Veggie World — Skip the Pho, Try the Duck

Veggie World is a restaurant which confuses me in several ways.  First, its name, which in English says “Veggie World,” yet in Chinese characters, says “Vegetarian Fragrance Garden” or 素香园.  I’m not sure why they needed to include the word for “fragrance” in their Chinese name because it doesn’t really make sense. Also, how did ‘garden’ turn into ‘world?’  Second, it’s in the middle of Monterey Park, has Chinese characters on its sign, and its decor is Chinese, yet our waitress couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin, nor Cantonese, nor English — she was Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese part makes sense after noticing the neon sign in the window that says “Pho” and seeing that their menu does indeed have a section full of Vietnamese noodle soups. Naturally, I ordered the vegetarian beef pho.  The BF ordered the bun bo hue.  We split an appetizer of fried spring rolls.


When the spring rolls showed up, I was taken aback.  They were cigarette-thin sticks and the wrapper wasn’t what I expected. The wrapper was more Chinese style instead of the Vietnamese styled rice paper wrapper.  Luckily, the filling was decent. I just wish there was more of it and that it was in a fried rice paper wrapper.  Sitting next to the garnishes that they’re meant to be eaten with, the rolls looked comically small.  The sauce it came with, while good and had some chili pepper in it, was a tad too sweet.  I was also searching for the usual pickled radish and carrot garnish that accompanies Vietnamese eggrolls, but was sad to see none on the plate.


The bun bo hue that the BF received looked alright.  The noodles were sufficiently springy and slick, but the key feature of the dish, the broth, was lacking. Now I understand that it’s not going to taste like real bun bo hue that has meat in it, but this one just didn’t have much depth.


Unfortunately, my pho didn’t fare much better.  If the restaurant had named this dish anything other than pho, I would have been fine with it.  Heck, they shouldn’t even mislead people into thinking this was pho with a bright neon ‘pho’ sign in the window! When I think about pho, I think of the fragrant broth full of star anise, charred onion, fennel, other herbs and spices and last but not least, beef.  I expected none of the beef flavor in a vegetarian version of the dish, but my bowl also had none of herbs and spices that are crucial in pho.  Veggie World’s version just tasted mushroom-like and sweet. Because the broth was so light and sweet, the faux beef pieces ended up being bland and unexciting instead of soaking up some flavor that would have come from the herbs and spices. At least the noodles weren’t clumped together like they had been sitting around cooked for a while.

I was excited to try out a new vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant so close to my parents house. Ever since I learned that Thuyen Vien closed down for the time being, I had been thinking there should be more veggie Vietnamese places that serve good renditions of traditionally meat-filled dishes. While eating at Veggie World, I realized through eavesdropping that they probably specialize not in the Vietnamese noodle soup dishes, but more on the fake meat dishes like vegetarian Beijing (Peking) Duck.  It’s not fair to judge a restaurant on its initial month of opening, so I’ll probably end up going back another time to try out some other, hopefully more successful dishes. Supposedly, this is the same restaurant that was a bit east in Rosemeade, so maybe once they iron out the details of moving, the food will get better.

Veggie World
321A W Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 642-0368