I thought I had a steady hand when it comes to chopsticks, but on a recent visit to City Heights' Pho Hoa Vietnamese restaurant, the pretty family next to me made me look like I was using I-beams from an old Erector Set. Even the little girl made short work of her food as she mixed and stirred her angel-hair noodles without a blink, sometimes with just one stick. I half-suspected she was a tiny employee of the eatery, or maybe even the daughter of a master Southeast Asian chef-but that's only because I was jealously klutzing my way around the mess I made. Sheesh.
I did manage to finish my meal, though, and the inconvenience was entirely worth it. The eatery works miracles with pho, a dish loaded with noodles, rice and beef and is seasoned to taste depending on the part of the animal the beef is taken from. I had the shank with mine-and while shank meat can be tough and dry, you wouldn't know it from this installment. The beef had obviously been marinated for about a hundred years, and the broth sang accordingly. (There's also something on the menu called beef balls, for the, uh, really adventurous.)
There's a pho craze afoot in the food industry these days, and you can find out why for next to no money. All except three of this restaurant's 24 dishes will lighten you by a pitiful $5.25 apiece. You can get in on the fun every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 4717 El Cajon Blvd.; the number is 619-283-6431. And if you see a little girl handling her chopsticks like a pro, pay heed. If you're like me, you have a valuable lesson ahead.
-Martin Jones Westlin