Restaurant Review #225: Pho So 1, Simi Valley

Charbroiled beef, eggrolls, vermicelli, and vegetables

If you want Vietnamese food in Ventura County, you don't have a lot of options. There's Pho Saigon in Port Hueneme, Pho Oxnard (guess where), and two branches of local chain Pho So 1, which has been around for 20 years. After those, Yelp! starts suggesting Thai and Chinese restaurants. Or you can drive, for a long time, to get the really good stuff in San Gabriel or Orange County.

Pho So 1, tucked in a corner of Simi Valley near the old Mervyn's where it can be surprisingly hard to find a parking space, looks and tastes like every other Vietnamese restaurant you've ever been to. You already know what's on the menu--pho, bun, charbroiled meats, traditional Vietnamese specialties, and assorted fruity shakes. The restaurant has a large, wide open dining room, plain tile floors, and a flatscreen TV. Like all Vietnamese restaurants, you'll find plenty of chopsticks, spoons, and an assortment of hot sauces on every table. The only thing that sets this restaurant apart is that the servers watch their customers walk up to the restaurant and are standing there, menus in hand, ready to seat you the moment you walk in. And within five minutes of ordering, your food will be on your table, piping hot and tasting freshly made even though it couldn't possibly have been. Now that's service.

Shrimp and beef sauteed with lemongrass and pepper and rice

I don't love Pho So 1--nothing is quite as flavorful as it could be--but it will do in a pinch. The prices are almost as good as Jack in the Box, but the food is more interesting and the portions are larger. If you'd like to try something familiar, consider the shrimp and beef sauteed with lemongrass and pepper (which can also be ordered sans shrimp). If you like Panda Express, you'll like this dish. Really, my only actual complaint about the food is that the "pork" that comes with the bun is a blubbery, pink, fatty pork that I've seen at other Vietnamese restaurants but can't bring myself to eat. I'm not sure if every pork dish on the menu uses this meat, but if you don't have a sense of adventure, ask the waiter first, or stick to beef or chicken. And I would not agree with the restaurant's website that their pho is #1.

Pho So 1 is good for a quick, casual, inexpensive meal any day of the week. When you're ready to pay, just take the menu pad ordering slip from your table up to the register. Unlike many Vietnamese restaurants I've been to, they do accept Visa and Mastercard. Also worth noting: they don't close midday, so if you've missed every other option for lunch, Pho So 1 can accommodate you.

Pho So 1
2837 Cochran St.
Simi Valley, CA 93065
Tel: (805) 306-1868
Hours: 9:00 am - 9:45 pm daily
Pho So 1 website