Story provided by contributing writer Lisa Lau
I remember first eating at Monster Pho when they opened in 2014. The food is authentically Vietnamese and a welcome to the Mosswood neighborhood in Oakland. The menu is limited, but focused. The concept of bringing high quality ingredients to Vietnamese street food was new back then and is still not all that common today.
It has been a few years since I’ve eaten at Monster Pho, not because I didn’t like the food. The restaurant attracted a lot of customers and I didn’t feel the need to wait in line for pho when there were plenty of other places to go for Vietnamese food. A recent Berkeleyside.com article about Ten Tran, owner of Monster Pho touched me. He’s a guy I need to support right now because he’s a guy supporting the community in such positive ways during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a business I need to order take-out from right now. Monster Pho isn’t just serving good Vietnamese food. Monster Pho serves “good” to Oakland.
The Ambience and Service
I called in for curbside pick-up and was told it would be twenty minutes. When I arrived, I noticed a community wagon in front of the door filled with free produce. The sign welcomed you to take what you needed. It was such a kind gesture that reminded me why I was there. I paid for my order and while waiting a few minutes for my food to be ready, I had the opportunity to talk to Ten. His smile was infectious. While I tried to congratulate him, he thanked me and gave credit to his team. The key to a great team is a great leader!
I got home excited about the food I was about to consume. Banh Xeo is a Vietnamese crepe that gets its bright yellow color from turmeric. The crepe is filled with shrimp, pork, onions, and bean sprouts. It’s accompanied with Romaine lettuce, herbs, hot sauce, and fish sauce. Although the crepe lost some of its crispness that I would’ve enjoyed if I were dining in, I still got lots of good texture from eating it with the crunchy lettuce as well as the bean sprouts. Every element tasted so fresh.
The banh mi sandwich at Monster Pho is listed as an appetizer. The reason being is that it is two small sandwiches each cut in half. I decided on a chicken banh mi and could taste the flavor of it having been marinated in lemongrass. It was a solid sandwich with a fresh chewy roll and crispy pickled carrots, daikon, and cucumber. It could be a meal on its own.
When ordering pho, you have a choice of chicken, beef, or vegetable pho. I requested brisket, flank, and tendon for my cuts of beef. Some might think pho might not taste the same at home, but it’s all about how you prepare your bowl. The noodles get clumped into a square mold, so I used scissors to cut it in half which is the proportion I intended to eat for my first meal. I then topped it with the various meats and veggies. I poured the broth into a large ceramic mug and heated it up in the microwave before pouring the amount needed for my bowl. Boiling the broth in a pot would be ideal, but I didn’t want to wash an entire pot. Once the hot broth is in the bowl, using chopsticks, I loosened the noodles and it easily separated. The beef pho was hearty and comforting with a broth that is really special.
Monster Pho also offers a variety of rice plates that include grilled chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, imperial rolls, or fried tofu. I love grilled pork so decided it would make for a great dinner. The tender pieces of pork have a nice crisp char and the flavors of garlic and fish sauce are perfect. The rice is topped with a fried egg and comes with pickled veggies to help balance the dish.
Even in this era of Covid-19, I feel fortunate. I have a job, my health, and a city full of delicious food, including Monster Pho.
About Contributing Writer Lisa Lau
Lisa is a local food blogger that has been writing about food since 2010. Her website www.510foodie.com has been named one of the Top 15 Oakland Blogs and Websites to follow. To stay up to speed on what Lisa is eating or cooking up, follow her instagram account: @510foodie!
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