Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte

Last spring after I posted about Pho Huynh Vietnamese Restaurant in South El Monte, WC reader Yum Cha Girl mentioned another filet mignon pho restaurant just down the street.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 1

So last summer, despite the heat wave, the minute I said, "Filet mignon," lil' sis decided she wanted some too. I happened to catch Henry Chan's Food Videos online and asked if he wanted to join us for dinner. He said no because he was planning to go to the gym. When we were halfway to the restaurant, he called and said he was going to come after all. Ha! I think it was the mention of filet mignon that did it. ;)

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) is such a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. We eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With pho restaurants everywhere, on this stretch of Garvey Avenue I can think of half a dozen, how does a restaurant stand out from the rest?

Step up the ingredients, of course. There are places that tout no MSG in their broth. Places that are known for using fresh, not dried, noodles. And now places that offer filet mignon beef slices.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 2

Since it was during the summer heat wave, I opted for sinh to dau xanh rau ma (Vietnamese mung bean and pennywort shake) for $2.25. Both mung bean and pennywort are known to have "cooling" properties. Rau Ma (Vietnamese Pennywort Juice) is one of my favorite drinks so I was curious how the restaurant would turn it into a milk shake. Well, apparently the pennywort shake is simply blended with ice, but the pennywort mung bean shake is thicker and more milk shake-like. I loved it, but then I love both pennywort and mung bean. Lil' sis and Henry did not and the looks on their faces when they tried my drink were priceless. Lil' sis even spat it out. Just be forewarned that this might not be for you.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 7

We all ordered the pho dac biet (Vietnamese beef noodle soup special), which had filet rare steak, well-done flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe for $5.75. I suggest adding the extra 50 cents for a large bowl.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 3

Actually, unlike other restaurants that offer regular and filet mignon slices, all of the pho thinly sliced beef options here are filet mignon.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 4

I prefer to order the filet mignon on the side as it gets over cooked in the hot soup by the time it arrives at the table. Just look at the beauty of that meat. It's not sliced as thick as at Pho Thanh Lich Vietnamese Restaurant - Westminster (Little Saigon), but still thick enough to appreciate the tenderness of the meat. And Pho Huynh only offers the filet mignon minced in their pho Bac (Northern-style).

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 5

Add your filet mignon into the broth so it gently cooks. The broth here is a little heavy on the cinnamon side, but if you like cinnamon as much as I do, then you'll like it too.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 6

On another visit with my brother and his wife, I had forgotten to tell the waiter to put the filet mignon on the side. As you can see, the filet mignon got lost amidst all the other meats so the pho didn't taste nearly as special. Also, on this visit, the broth seemed greasier than my first visit.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 9

His wife ordered the pho Bac for $6. Northern-style pho usually has slightly wider, softer fresh rice noodles. The meat is minced and sparse since the North is traditionally not as abundant as the South. And if you're a true Northern purist, you also don't add bean sprouts or basil, or Sriracha or hoisin sauce. Just a bit of green onion, onions, and cilantro. Maybe you squeeze in a tiny bit of lime.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 8

Southern-style is the pho most restaurants serve in America. Thinner, slightly chewy noodles. A whole variety of beef offerings. A plate of basil, bean sprouts, limes, and sawtooth herb, if you're lucky. Doused with Sriracha and hoisin sauce.

On another visit with cousin Q, his younger brother, his older brother and his wife, I opted for just pho tai sach (Vietnamese beef noodle soup with filet rare steak and tripe) for $5.50. This time, I remembered to order the filet mignon on the side.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 10

Oh, this was lovely. No other meats to compete with the taste. Just pure tender beefiness. This was the regular-sized bowl, and honestly, just add that 50 cents for a large. You'll appreciate it more.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 11

I didn't let the meat overcook, and started eating when it was still slightly rare.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 12

I ordered a Soda Sua Hot Ga (Vietnamese Condensed Milk Egg Soda) for $2. Think of it as the Vietnamese version of an orange Julius, minus the orange. Creamy, slightly eggy, and carbonated.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 13

I was eyeing another table that ordered rice plates. The food came out on huge platters. The Com Do Ga Ro Ti (Vietnamese Roasted Chicken with Red Rice) looked so good that I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. I talked lil' sis into coming with me a few days later.

We ordered Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls) for $4.50. These were just ordinary. They were hot and crisp, but the filling was rather bland. Plus, I've come to expect them made the traditional Vietnamese way, wrapped and fried in rice paper, not Chinese egg roll wrappers.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 14

The rice plates came with a bowl of broth soup with a spare rib.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 15

Finally, the dish I was salivating over. The Cornish game hen was crispy golden and came with red rice and pickles. This huge platter for $5.50.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 16

Look at that marvelous crispy skin. The red rice was colored from annatto seed and didn't taste as spectacular as it looked. Lil' sis and I prefer the Com Do Ca Chua (Vietnamese Tomato Paste Red Rice) at Dong Nguyen Restaurant - Alhambra.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 17

We ordered the com tam dac biet (Vietnamese special broken rice platter), which came with Tom Tau Hu Ky (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste Wrapped in Bean Curd Skin), Chinese sausage, shredded pork skin, Cha Trung (Vietnamese Steamed Egg Omelet), and pork chop for $6.75.

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 18

The rice was a bit dry and the pork chop not nearly as flavorful or tender as at Com Tam Thuan Kieu - San Gabriel (Valley Blvd.).

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte 19

Overall, I'd have to stick with my maxim - order what the restaurant names itself after. Order the pho, and remember to ask for the filet mignon on the side.

And thanks again to WC reader Yum Cha Girl for the tip!

Who else ate at Pho Filet?
Gourmet Pigs blogged about our first meeting.

Other filet mignon pho restaurants:
Pho Huynh Vietnamese Restaurant - South El Monte
Pho Thang Long Restaurant - Westminster (Little Saigon)
Pho Thanh Lich Vietnamese Restaurant - Westminster (Little Saigon)

Pho Filet Vietnamese Restaurant
9463 E. Garvey Ave., Unit #A
South El Monte, CA 91733
8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays

1 year ago today, ramen at Santouka - Los Angeles (Mar Vista).
2 years ago today, Golden Deli Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel.


  1. Oh, I was at Pho Filet this past week - and I do love the noticeable hint of cinnamon their pho broth. Of course, I adulterated my pho bac with sprouts & greens.

    And should've taken your cue and gotten my beef on the side since they did wound up overcooked in my pho bac ~ but I was flu-stricken and didn't feel like undercooking the beef and risking another malady for my frail body to deal with :P next time!

  2. pho looks delicious! i prefer the chinese wrapper for cha gio over rice paper.

  3. WC, I'm glad you had the chance to try it out. Another thing I've learned from my fiance and you have to try this some time is to order a side of sliced onions soaked in vinegar and a bowl of soup fat that have green onions soaking in them. If you add siracha to the sliced onions and then put them on the filet and dip the filet in the soup fat it is soooooo yummy. Terribly bad for you but soo yummy.

  4. This place looks interesting! I have never asked for a place to put the meat on the side. Maybe next time we will and the meat will taste different :).

    Broth soup with the rice plates looks very appetizing, but it looks like they added carrot and celery at the bottom, or whatever is below the meat...

    Drinks seem very interesting! I've never tried any of these. Only have tried three color ice.

    As usual great photos! The broken rice platter looks so colorful and yummy...

  5. hi WC!
    I wish the Vietnamese places down where I live would serve filet mignon! the prices are higher here too, like $6.75 for a bowl. even in the clairmont/linda vista area, the prices for pho are going up.

    I've never tried the pennywort drink before, and despite your companions' distaste for it, I would be willing to try it.

  6. This looks fantastic, WC! I could eat pho quite often :-) I think I prefer the southern way, though I don't usually add much sriraccha or hoisin. I had pho with a Thai co-worker some time ago. We'd both ordered the same - pho tai - but she heaped on about four tablespoons of the tuong ot, at least two tablespoons of sriraccha, and a heaping soup spoon of sugar. Our bowls looked nothing alike!

  7. Oh, and I'm definitely with you on the rice wrappers for cha gio. My favorite!

  8. Hi WC - I'm waiting for filet mignon to make it South...especially after having it a Thanh Lich.

  9. Rau ma with mung beans, gotta try that. I love rau ma but no one else I know likes it too much.

  10. I remember trying for the first time Tom Tau Hu Ky in California! Yum! I wish Vietnamese food selection here was like Cali's!

  11. I have been reading your blog for the last couple of months and this is my first comment.

    And everyday, you make me so hungry from your pictures!

  12. I would go with you to this place rather than go to the gym too. Henry Chan knows better than to miss an opportunity to dine with you at a filet mignon pho place!

  13. I love the cute diner look of the exterior to this place! And the Pho looks great too!

  14. I wish I had restaurants like that near me!

  15. great photos! the broth in that beef noodle soup looks amazing and those spring rolls..mmm.

  16. Yum Yum!

    Now I can't wait for your pho filet mignon round up. See! You had set yourself up for that. :P

    I still want to try this place though. It's on my list of places to try!

  17. Hi WC,

    I recently flew with American Airline and saw that you were quoted in one of the articles in the inflight magazine. Cool =)


  18. Wow that Cornish game hen with red rice made my mouth water. You wouldn't happen to have a recipe for that would you?


  19. fried chicken leg on red rice. ohhh hard to find that here.

  20. HC,
    I keep forgetting to ask for the filet on the side. But pho is so great when you're under the weather.

    How could you? Rice paper wrappers are better! :)

    Yum Cha Girl,
    Haha. Yeah, I've never gotten into the hanh dam and nuoc beo thing. Just too greasy for me.

    Yeah, I meant the soup is largely broth though, not a hearty type of soup.

    Canine Cologne,
    I'm sure the filet mignon craze will start trickling down to SD eventually. Pennywort is very healthy so if you like it, it's a great drink to order.

    Eek! I can't imagine putting that much stuff into my pho. And sugar too? I only put in a little bit of sriracha and hoisin, preferring to put it on the side for dipping. Twice now, I've seen people add the entire sprig of basil, stems and all. Or the chili sauce in oil. Hehe, not VNese though. ;)

    I say give it another year. Seemed like it took a while for SD to pick up the Cajun craze too.

    I looooove rau ma. Love it. Could happily drink a whole pitcher by myself. Ha! Another thing we have in common.

    No tau hu ky in Canada? The version in Portland was really thin and pathetic. I swear, I live here for the food.

    Thanks! That's always a nice compliment to get. :)

    Filet mignon are the magic words. :)

    A lot of the pho places are pretty bare bones, diner-like.

    I wish you did too! Then you could try them.

    It was a great bowl of soup.

    Pepsi Monster,
    Stop nagging! I get enough of that from my momma. :)

    Haha. Yeah, someone else recognized me in that too. :)

    I've got a red rice recipe in the queue. The Cornish game hens have been pretty pricey late.

    What's in the Pot?,
    Funny! I think that's the first time I heard of a parent passing my blog along to their kid. Cool!

    I'm telling ya, HK VNese food isn't really VNese. Come here! I'll show you the real stuff.

  21. while Pho Filet is good, the pho bac is still CLEARLY not as light as what an actual Northern pho bac would be.

    for pho dac biet, Pho Minh, down the street offers a far crisper, beefier broth w/ "supposedly" no MSG.

  22. Tony,
    Of course not. Real pho Bac is incredibly bland because it's light on spices and light on flavor. I lived in Hanoi for a month and ate pho every morning. Was unimpressed every day.

    Pho Minh is alright. The broth was a little one-dimensional for me. I also found their noodles and beef not very spectacular. It's a good bowl of pho, but my table was the only one there on a Sunday morning. Passed Pho Filet on the way home and the lot was jam-packed, spilling over into the street. I think that speaks for itself.

  23. I love pho so much! Last November I went to Visit my now Fiancee In Vietnam, and we ate Pho everyday. It was so good. But I live in Wisconsin, about 3h 30m north of Chi. we only have 1 Pho type Restaurant, and its only open a few hours wed, fri, sat. but it just ok Pho. I want to make it at home. but well im not good at cooking anything. I just wanted to say that i am so jealous of you guys that have a choice of Vietnamese restaurants. BRING PHO TO THE NORTH!!!

  24. Oh, to add, when i went to VN, I was south of Saigon, in Vinh Long. It was a wonderful place. I met very nice people. truly Pho is great, but i think its the experience you remember with the taste. whenever I eat pho, i think of all the wonderful times i had in Vietnam. everyday we would wake up and my fiancee would drive me on her honda, so many people would laugh because i was this 6' 1" White American on the back of a motor bike with a 5' 0' vietnamese woman driving. haha Great times.

  25. Joseph,
    I eat pho almost every day for breakfast in VN too. I totally agree that food and travel memories are closely intertwined. I spent a summer in Madison, and the VNese food there was sorely lacking. That's really surprising since there were so many other cuisines. Oh well, I guess you'll just have to make it at home.

  26. WC,
    have you tried Pho Hien Restaurant (stand alone building)? They also have Pho Fillet on the menu. I allergic to MSG and this is the only place I can have PHO. I love their soup with NO MSG.

  27. Coti,
    I haven't tried it b/c of the controversy, and also b/c people say the wife's restaurant, Pho Hien Mai is better. But I hear the husband sold it and there's a new owner.

    Is the no MSG from the new owner then? Pho Minh also supposedly has no MSG in their pho if you want to try it.

  28. I used to be at the Hien Mai Restaurant which I think it's the best until I try Pho Hien, I love their soup and this place is bigger and better environment. I did try Pho Minh but I don't like the soup...........or maybe I just get used to have Pho Hien/Hien Mai soup. I think Pho Hien now also have pork chop like you mention at Pho Fillet above I think it tasks better than Com Tam Thuan Kieu.

  29. Coti,
    With that kind of endorsement, I'll have to keep Pho Hien in mind next time I'm in the area then.

  30. WC,
    Great blog! Love the mix of reviews and recipes! I haven't seen any places around here (SF Bay Area) w/ filet. I'll have to look closer! :)

    I always get the steak on the side too, but I like to put in only a couple pieces at a time so I can eat them all when they are rare. It looks like you put them in all at once then eat at various stages of done-ness?

  31. Jeesung,
    Thanks! I'm surprised SF hasn't caught on to the filet mignon craze yet. Maybe San Jose?

    The broth cools as I eat it. So adding meat as I go means the meat will be too rare near the end. Haha. Maybe I just eat too slow?

  32. i like my meat pretty rare so even when the broth cools a bit there's enough heat to cook it to a light pink ;-)

  33. JeeSung,
    Well, that's in keeping with a nice filet mignon then. :P


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