Sometimes you find the best food in the least likely places. Directly across from Orange Coast Memorial Hospital in Fountain Valley in a typical mini-mall, some of the best casual Vietnamese food outside of Little Saigon exists. The menu has your typical mix of soups, salads, sandwiches and noodle dishes, with a few Thai dishes thrown in for good measure. On my last visit to Phờ Bành Mì Chè Cali I had enjoyed the Hử Tiếu #30, a soup with large meat-filled wontons and slices of BBQ pork in addition to the noodles. As with all Vietnamese places, a nice plate of jalapeno, basil, bean sprouts, lime and bean sprouts came to make it any way you want and add fresh crunchiness to the broth. The broth was rich and flavorful, not overpowering but with a lightness that left a very pleasing taste on the palate.
This time around, something different seemed in order. A large sign in the window said “Phờ Gà 50% Off”. Always on the lookout for a bargain, I decided to give it a try. Phờ Gà is a chicken soup, full of the rice noodles and topped with onions, scallions and huge slices of white meat chicken breast. I ordered the large size for $6.99 and it must have had half a breast sliced into it. The broth again had that lightness, full of chicken flavor but not thick and overpowering. With the addition of the lime, jalapeno and basil from the plate that included the bean sprouts, just enough kick was added to give a pleasant, warm taste. Did I mention that this huge bowl of Phờ Gà was 50% off? For $3.50, I cannot think of a better bargain in a delicious, filling soup.
Tofu is not common on most menus and when you find it it is typically in soup or stir-fried with meats or vegetables. The only other place I had seen tofu as an appetizer was at a Thai restaurant. I spotted a similar dish at Bành Mì Chè Cali and knew that it was worth trying. The firm tofu was cut into cubes, lightly battered and then deep-fried to a delicate golden color. The first few bites of tofu were extremely hot, hard on the tongue but immensely saitisfying. On the side, a sweet chili sauce provided the perfect dip for the cubes, not too spicy but with a pleasant sweetness that went well with the crispy-soft tofu.
Many other tempting items exist on the menu. With almost 90 items available including the ubitquous bàhn mì sandwiches, there is no chance that you could get bored with Banh Mì Chè Cali’s menu. They even have Bứn Bò Huẽ, the soup that originated in Hue, the royal capital in central Vietnam. If done right, it is an exquisite soup, full of lemongrass and herbal flavors. As one of many delicious dishes available at Bành Mì Chè Cali, it can become exceedingly easy to become a regular, while continually trying different dishes for a new experience each time.
Bành Mì Chè Cali
18122 Brookhurst Street, #D & E
Fountain Valley, CA 92708