Pho Saigon 2 Noodle and Grill
Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine comes to El Sobrante
If you’ve driven on Appian Way lately, you may have noticed a lot of activity at the former site of the Mandarin House Chinese Restaurant in El Sobrante. That’s because a great new Vietnamese eatery, Pho Saigon 2 Noodle and Grill, opened there on June 7th. You can hardly miss the large two-sided, lighted road sign that advertises the new restaurant, and invites passers-by to come in and try their soups, sandwiches, tapioca smoothies, and more.
Pho Saigon 2 owner and head chef, Chau Lam, also owns the predecessor restaurant, Pho Saigon 1, located in Newark, CA, which has been open for approximately 2 years. Chau decided to open Pho Saigon 2 at its current location largely due to the urging of his step-father, Dan Le, a restaurateur in the greater Bay Area since 1984, and former owner/operator of the Bamboo Chopsticks Restaurant, which thrived in El Sobrante until its closure several years ago. Pho Saigon 2 was opened to re-introduce authentic Vietnamese cuisine to the area, and ironically is located near the former location of Bamboo Chopsticks. Some of the menu items and the recipes offered at Pho Saigon 2 are actually the same as those formerly offered at Dan’s restaurant, although Chau has integrated some of his own new recipes and culinary talents into the offerings, as well.
Pho Saigon 2’s menu has a variety of selections suitable for all tastes, including traditional Pho (Noodle Soups), rice and vermicelli plates, sandwiches, and traditional Vietnamese appetizers, such as Vietnamese Beef Carpaccio with Lime, Fried Fish Cake, Imperial and Spring Rolls. There are also Vegetarian offerings, and a kid’s menu, making this an ideal venue for family dinners. Although Pho Saigon doesn’t currently offer dessert, it does boast a beverage menu complete with nearly a dozen different types of Tapioca Smoothies (Pearl Drinks), in addition to a delectable Vietnamese coffee, teas, juices, milk, and soft drinks. And the best part is that the prices are very affordable, with most entrees costing only $7.75, and the single most expensive menu item being $11.95, which is Cube Beef (Shaking Beef) that is made with the highest quality Filet Mignon.
Chau has been fortunate to have the assistance of his long-time college friend, Shannon Howard, to help with the logistics of establishing Pho Saigon 2. As the Operations Manager, Shannon oversees the customer service and fulfillment, keeps pulse on the general flow of the business, and assists with many other responsibilities, including daily shopping for fresh produce and other ingredients. He will soon be setting up a website and Facebook page for Pho Saigon 2, before eventually returning to Los Angeles where he lives with his wife and family.
Before Pho Saigon 2, neither I nor my husband had ever eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant. In fact, his most adventurous non-American dining experience was eating Chinese food! We dined late on a weeknight, but the restaurant still had several tables with patrons enjoying their dinners. We were greeted at the door by a friendly hostess, who sat us promptly and brought us menus. Our server, Alfred, acknowledged us almost immediately, and asked if we had any questions about the menu. Though we had barely reviewed the menu, we ordered an appetizer, the Tom Chien Bo (Batter Deep Fried Shrimp). I also ordered a Pina Colada Smoothie, but asked about the large, round, black tapioca pearls that were illustrated on the menu. Alfred explained that the tapioca is tasteless, and the pearls simply add texture to the drinks. He noted that the smoothies could be ordered with or without the tapioca pearls, but I decided to order mine with the pearls. When he returned with our drinks, Alfred offered a couple of recommendations, and suggested that the Rice Vermicelli plates would be an excellent choice for the warm evening. We perused the menu a bit longer, thankful for the English translations and the colored pictures of nearly all of the entrees included in the menu. Ultimately, we both ordered rice plates—my husband ordered the Com Dac Biet (Special Combo Plate with Grilled Pork Chop, Shrimps, Fried Chicken Wing & Imperial Roll over Rice); and I ordered Com Suan Nuong (Grilled Pork Chop over Rice.)
While waiting for our food, we noticed that all of the tables conveniently have utensils (chopsticks, forks, knives) in containers; napkin dispensers, and bottles of various sauces—Hoisin, Soy, Siracha Hot Chili, and a special house made chili sauce. We admired the newly remodeled restaurant interior, with bright lights, newly tiled floor, mirrored walls, and the large screen TV. We also took note of food being delivered to those around us. Large steaming bowls of Pho seemed to be the most popular choice of the evening. Most of the customers seemed well-experienced, as they mixed the fresh heaping dishes of bean sprouts, cilantro, lime and jalapenos into their bowls before eating the Pho.
Our food arrived quickly and beautifully presented. Each had a large, though thin, boneless pork chop, which was grilled to perfection. My husband’s combo plate included 3 shrimps and the other accompaniments, and both plates had a generous servings of white rice. The pork chops were moist and juicy, well-seasoned, and very flavorful; the Imperial Roll was crisp, fresh and not at all greasy. The large, crispy fried chicken wing lacked enough seasoning for my husband’s taste, but also was not greasy. The fried shrimp appetizer we’d ordered was tasty, but the batter was light (a bit like a pastry coating) and tended to separate from the shrimp after the first bite. The Pina Colada Drink was thick, cold and refreshing, though the tapioca pearls didn’t appeal to me. The overall dining experience was very enjoyable, earning a “thumbs up” from my finicky husband, who agreed that he would definitely return to dine there again.
When a guest and I met with Chau and Shannon the next week for the interview, we learned that Chau does all of the cooking for Pho Saigon 2, assisted by several Prep Cooks, including family members, who have significant experience in the restaurant business. (We even had the opportunity to meet his father, Dan, who also helps out at Pho Saigon 2!) All food items are prepared fresh every single day—any food left over at the end of the day is sent home with the employees for their families. Chau is committed to quality and consistency in the foods served at both of his restaurants. He makes many of the sauces used in food preparation from scratch, including the peanut sauce, mayonnaise (for the baguette sandwiches), and the House Special Hot Chili Sauce. Chau explained that Vietnamese cuisine is generally healthier than some other Asian inspired foods, because it is prepared with fresh, natural ingredients, and without using oil or grease. The food is seasoned with a special blend of seasonings that make the taste of the food unique.
During the interview, Chau brought us a sample of the beef broth and the chicken broth used for the Pho dishes. He explained how he simmers the beef bones in the broth for twelve hours to give it a deep, rich taste. Both broths were exquisite, but the beef was my favorite. The aroma and rich flavor were unlike any I’ve ever tasted. (I will definitely be ordering Pho a future visit!) Chau also treated us to an order of Goi Cuon Tho Thit (Fresh Shrimp and Pork Spring Rolls), which are wrapped in thin rice paper such that you can see the ingredients through the wrapper. These were served with Chau’s homemade peanut sauce, and were very light and delicious. Finally, we had the opportunity to try Bun Tom, Ga Nuong, Cha Gio (Combo of grilled shrimps, chicken and Imperial Roll over Vermicelli noodles). Unlike Pho, the noodles in this dish are served dry, though they are moist and tender, and mixed in with the meats. It is served with a light, sweet sauce to pour over the noodles, further intensifying this already flavorful dish.
Pho Saigon 2 is rapidly becoming a popular location for many locals who enjoy quality Vietnamese cuisine, and Chau and Shannon have already seen many repeat customers. Although weekends tend to be busiest, the restaurant was crowded during both of my weeknight visits, so don’t be surprised if there’s a wait to be seated. The restaurant seats approximately 70 guests, both indoors and outdoors, is easily accessible from San Pablo Dam Road, and offers ample parking. Whether you love Vietnamese cuisine, or you haven’t tried it before, you should definitely stop by Pho Saigon 2 for lunch or dinner and treat yourself to fast, courteous customer service; fresh, healthy and affordable cuisine; and an overall excellent dining experience!
5047 Appian Way in El Sobrante | (510) 222-2888 |
Hours: Open 6 days a week 10:30 – 9:00 (closed Tuesdays)