Pho tai (rare beef)
Phoreign. My first thought was, "god, what a horrible name for a restaurant. There is no way this place is going to last with a name like that!" Then I realized that it might be a Vietnamese place--and it is--which makes the name slightly less painful.
So is this the reincarnation of Hanoi Cafe? I'm not positive, but I think so. When they closed, the sign said that they were moving down the street. I wasn't expecting the name change, though. I never ate at Hanoi Cafe--in fact, the first time I tried to eat there, I discovered that they'd closed--so I can't tell you if the menu or the flavors are the same. I went to Phoreign with low expectations though, due to 1) the cheesy name 2) the Westside Vietnamese curse 3) the possibility that it was a reincarnation of Hanoi Cafe, which no one seemed enthused about and 4) the gaudy, bright, oversized photos on a large sign outside the restaurant.
Bun with unfried tofu
My low expectations were pretty much fulfilled. The restaurant wasn't bad, but it was somewhere between average and mediocre (average for Westside Vietnamese, that is).
The first problem was that the water tasted funny. To be specific, it tasted like the way swimming pool water tastes when you're right next to a pool float (this spot-on observation brought to you by one of my fellow diners). It was so bad that I didn't drink it at all, in fact, and I'm no water snob. I ordered a cafe sua da instead. I ordered it hot, but it came lukewarm. There's no excuse for not being able to boil water before pouring it over my coffee.
The waiter nicely explained that I needed to wait for the water to drain through the coffee and stir it well so it would mix with the sweetened condensed milk. Yes, I am a white girl, but that doesn't mean that I have never seen a Vietnamese iced coffee before. Sigh. I have sort of noticed, though, that the Sawtelle scene really is almost entirely young 20-something Asians, so I guess I do stand out like a sore thumb. I'm so used to being surrounded by minorities, though, that I tend to think I am one. Actually, when you're surrounded by people who are different than you, that does make you a minority. The white minority. I prefer it that way, actually.
As pho is always a logical measuring stick for a Vietnamese place, that's what I ordered. It was interestingly presented, with the rare beef balled up in a rose shape, but it wasn't served hot enough, the noodles were difficult to tease away from their original clump, and the broth didn't have the complexity of flavor that one expects from a good bowl of pho.
Bun with charbroiled beef
The bun with charbroiled beef (and normally shrimp, but I ordered it sans shellfish) had flavors of lemongrass, and I could definitely taste the fishiness in the accompanying sauce. The imperial rolls had lots of ginger, which was an excellent decision. It wasn't as good as Thanh My, but it was the best dish on the table.
My other friend's dish was a tofu bun dish. She ordered the tofu not fried, which they happily accomodated, but I was a bit horrified to see that they had partially burned her imperial rolls and put them in the dish anyway. It had a different sauce than the other bun, probably because fish sauce isn't vegetarian, so I think it's safe to say that they do have a vegetarian dish on the menu, and that the pho with tofu might actually be made with vegetarian broth as well.
We ate at one of the two patio tables, adjacent to the none-too-scenic parking lot. Our orders were taken quickly and arrived promptly, but after that, we were long-forgotten. The staff was friendly, in that invisible sort of way. The interior looks nice, though narrow and small-there are only 4 or five tables, and the rest of the seats are at a long bar. The dominant color is dark wood, and they have bamboo shades in the windows. The lunch menu is abbreviated, but they do offer a couple of lunch specials that come with imperial rolls, rice, and salad for $10.95. Pho costs about $7.00, and other things are slightly cheaper. Coffee is $3.
Verdict? The only reason I will eat here again is because the location is convenient for me. Pho 99 is probably your best option for Westside Vietnamese.
2123 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025