>> Phở Thìn 13 Lò Đúc | Eat the World Los Angeles

Monday 13 February 2023

Phở Thìn 13 Lò Đúc

Bolsa Avenue facade (Pho Thin 13 Lo Duc)

📍 10451 Bolsa Avenue, Westminster, Orange County
🅿️ Ample parking in plaza
🥤 No Alcohol

While the non-Vietnamese tourists in Hanoi are all hoarding the nearby Bún chả Hương Liên, where former president Obama met for a meal with Anthony Bourdain in 2016, a nearby spot is equally thronged with residents of the city. They come of course for Phở Thìn 13 Lò Đúc, named for its address and proprietor Nguyễn Trọng Thìn who opened it in 1979. After more than 40 years in business, the shop has basically stuck to its simple, delicious formula, which is now available in Little Saigon.

His bifocaled face and distinctive white mustache grace the wall and small menu here in the new Westminster restaurant that soft-opened in the middle of January. The menu pretty much feels similar, despite having many options for drinks (and free tea for now) there are only seven choices for phở, all variations on the main theme that focuses on rare slices of beef.

Interior photos of Nguyễn Trọng Thìn at Pho Thin in Hanoi

People that grow up in the north of Vietnam are a very different type than most of those found in Southern California, they do not like the extravagant flavors of the south. It is either too salty and/or too pungent. Often this distaste is found in reverse as well, with southerners (and their Orange County kids) finding northern cuisine, and especially their phở, on the boring side. Online criticism is already in full flavor from those preferring greater intensity in their broth.

But Phở Thìn 13 Lò Đúc is still new, and everyone loves a shiny new object as lines during recent weekday dinners and all day on the weekends show. The Hanoi noodle shop has the attention of Little Saigon, at least for the moment. The dining room is fairly spacious, and since the broth is ready to go and noodles cook quickly, the turnover is pretty fast. Phở is often a morning meal in Vietnam, and they open at 08:00 daily if you want to arrive before most others.

Phở tái lăn truyền thống (Pho tai lan truyen thong)

Chef Thìn's signature bowl in Hanoi is the simple phở tái lăn truyền thống ($13.99, above), which does a quick stir-fry of beef, leaving it rare before adding it to the bowl. These thin cuts of meat soak in the garlic they are stir-fried with, and that all transfers to the broth, which is probably more pungent than usual northern bowls with garlic and a bit of ginger.

Just like in Hanoi, a layer of freshly chopped green onions conceals the contents further down in the bowl. Toasted garlic bits still stick to the meat and some of the house-made noodles, which have an excellent chewiness. The bowl is a bit smaller than the average size for the area, and a few dollars more, but that first sip of broth and first bite of noodle will quickly make those facts unimportant.

Pho Thìn's Đặc Biệt (Pho Thin dac biet)

With such good noodles and broth, the pieces of beef themselves are surprisingly the last thing you are thinking about while enjoying a bowl. If you do want an upgrade, $2 gets you filet mignon or you can get a small bowl of cooked beef meatballs for an extra $5. The smaller size also lets you enjoy a plate of bánh quẩy ($2, not shown), which are fried dough eaten with these bowls in Hanoi but unfortunately all sold out in Westminster on this day.

Like most phở shops in Little Saigon, they have a Đặc biệt (house special) at the top of the menu, if the simple preparation if the version above does not fulfill your wishes. Phở Thìn Đặc Biệt ($15.99, above) also comes in a much larger bowl for the hungry crowd, more in line with area standards. In addition to the rare beef, it adds cuts of flank steak, brisket, tendon, and some more well done pieces as well as a couple beef meatballs.

Bowl with Pho Thin logo

The only thing missing from the experience might be a cold bottle of Hanoi Beer, which would be on most tables at the original 13 Lò Đúc location. Liquor laws are a bit trickier in California, but hopefully this is available one day for pairing with bowls of perfect northern-style phở.

A nice plate of juicy limes, herbs, sliced jalapeños, and bean sprouts is placed on the table to use, and there are additional jars of pickled peppers and garlic, but it would not be out of line to use none of it for such a great phở. Those are sure to be the only items left at the end of the meal, as bowls will be completely slurped clean.

Chopsticks holder with Pho Thin logo


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