I'm a San Diego native, and I'm still not sure if we've all come to an agreement on what to call the length of Convoy Street between Aero Drive and Balboa Avenue. Little Asia? Asia Town? I refuse to venture a guess because if I'm anything less than geo-synchronously accurate, taking into account accurately plotted neighborhood meridian lines, people yell at me. I've learned that it's an egregious offense to err on the proper name of a neighborhood, and I just don't want to shame my family any more than I already have. Someone let me know exactly what to call this stretch of Kearny Mesa. In the meantime, let's call it “Anderson Cooper” for funsies.
Go cruising around Anderson Cooper and you'll find an abundance of pan-Asian dining options. There are sushi joints and boba-tea houses and traditional Chinese eateries complete with family-style, lazy-Susan eating. Anderson Cooper is also full of pho—the aromatic Vietnamese broth filled with meat, noodles, vegetables and herbs. And Mignon Pho is hoping to be your go-to spot for the best bowl on Anderson's belt.
When the server set the deep bowl of soup in front of me, I felt a bizarre pang and wished for a moment that I was having sinus issues. The steamy vapors twirling up from the chestnut-colored liquid smelled healing, exotic and magical. I opted for the namesake bowl, filled with soft and tender slices of filet mignon, gently cooked to a buttery tenderness by the hot bath in which they swam.
Even after years of trying, I remain completely inept with chopsticks, so eating the slippery noodles took patience and effort and left me with a wet chin and broth droplets all over the table. But I pushed through my own lack of skill, because this was a mean bowl of pho, accompanied by a plate of greens that would make Peter Rabbit swoon. Fresh basil, cilantro, tarragon and sprouts were just a few of the lush delights swimming in the soup. The broth is dark and rich and intensely flavorful. You taste more than just ingredients; you taste the hours of effort that went into its simmer.
Though pho is certainly the house specialty, the menu is a playground of things to try. I'm sorry, gentle readers, that in my pregnant condition I couldn't stomach the thought of trying the fried frogs legs or skewered chicken hearts, but they are there, and based on everything else I ate, I bet they're tasty.
Mignon Pho has a ton of appetizers that allow you to try things both new and familiar. The banh mi is great, with a wonderful baguette that's snowy soft on the inside and toasted on the outside. The pork is flavorful and very fatty—a texture issue that I have a hard time getting over—but the rest of the elements, from the creamy fried egg to the zingy fresh peppers and sweet veggies, make a sandwich that won't bore your mouth.
I slowly fell in love with the lemongrass garlic fries. Don't bother with the ketchup that comes with them, it defeats the purpose. The lemongrass is very faint; you smell it more than taste it—but there are globs of minced garlic tucked among the forest of potatoes, which arrive scalding and amply salted.
I expected an uninteresting and divey place, but Mignon Pho surprised me with its open and hip atmosphere, along with a decent selection of craft beers and happy-hour options. Pay Anderson Cooper a visit sometime; you'll be glad you did.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.