(photo by wm. christman)
At nearly every company I have worked at, there have been a handful of folks from Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and other non-Western cultures who have been able to point me at the best of their unique and different foods in the area.
At one company with a large Chinese workforce, the moment I was invited to lunch with a group of them was the moment that they realized that I wasn’t just a sweet and sour pork guy. They took much delight in and tried (and tried hard) to throw as many “odd” foods in my direction to see if they could get me to react in a typically American way, but I took it all in stride.
Everything they ever tried to get me to eat was truly delicious and are now some of my favorite things to eat. I am forever grateful to them and others who have helped me round out my palate. And my recent gig is no exception…
In a quest for the best pho (say “fah” not “foh”) in the area, my colleague Judie T. pointed me to a place in Northeast San Jose which epitomizes the classic pho joint. San Jose’s Vietnamese population is huge and there are many
pho shops here. Most of them are bare-bones, holes-in-the-wall small operations and they’re almost always family run. It’s pretty hard to find one around here that won’t satisfy a beefy noodle craving.However, Pho Kim Long is clearly a few notches above the rest. The restaurant is a strip mall wonder (lots of them are) – lots of tables pushed close to each other, floor-to-ceiling panes of thin glass separating you from the outside world, lots of shouted order giving to the kitchen, a jumble of human motion and clattering dishes, and nearly always a line to get in. In other words, you want to be here.
To be a bit more accurate, Pho Kim Long has pho and bun (say “boon”) which are both rice noodles – pho is flat, bun is round. Either way, when mixed with a rich beef broth scented with star anise or a deeply clear yellow chicken broth both are highly satisfying. Various meats (flank, round, tendon, young chicken meat) add heft to the bowl. Bean sprouts, mint or basil, lime juice, fresh jalapeños and Sriracha hot chili sauce allow you to further customize.
Bun Bo Hue (photo by wm. christman)
Two of the stand out bowls at Pho Kim Long are the Bun Bo Hue and Bun Rieu. Bun Bo Hue is a meat-lover’s delight with bun, chunks of stewed beef and pork, a couple of pieces of pork blood and a dollop of fiery-hot chili sauce. The broth is richer than what they use for the regular pho with a mouth-filling richness that would stand on its own. The squeamish may eschew the pork blood but it does give the bowl a richness and funk that is pleasant. Since it appears in a small cohesive chunk, you can take it out if you want.
Bun Rieu (photo by wm. christman)
The Bun Rieu is a crab meat noodle bowl. That description is slightly misleading it is not strands of crab that are in this dish but a mix of crab meat and egg whipped into light, cloud-like chunks that float about the bowl like dumplings. The uniquely textured pieces are packed with pure crab flavor. The broth is seafood based that is slightly spicy and adds to the bowl’s light but filling nature. Add mint and a squeeze of lime to coax out even more flavor from this bowl of goodness.
As with typical pho joints, Pho Kim Long’s menu has variations of each variety of pho and bun four and five combos deep – regular beef pho has 6-7 different meats to choose from. The chicken pho has young chicken meat that is tender and flavorful and far from supermarket-generic flavorlessness.
East-side, hole-in-the-wall, family run pho joints are some of the best around. And Pho Kim Long is one of the best.
Pho Kim Long, 2082 N Capitol Ave, San Jose, CA 95132, 408.946.2181