If you and your dining partner can’t decide on what version of pho you both want, Saigon Restaurant (4455 El Cajon Blvd, City Heights) might be your best choice. In addition to the full panoply of beef cuts -- rare steak, flank steak, brisket, tripe, tendon, beef balls, in any combination you desire -- there are also excellent chicken, vegetarian, shrimp, and seafood options. Wander a little deeper into Saigon’s menu and you'll find several versions of bánh canh soup, featuring a thicker, softer noodle. The best of these is bánh canh tôm cua giá: a Vietnamese udon-style noodle soup stewed in a shrimp broth with sweet crab meat (imitation crab meat costs $1 less).
But these exceptional bowls of pho are, increasingly, just that: exceptions. The rule, it seems, is broths full of MSG. The outline of pho is there, but not the depth of flavor you can only obtain by long, slow simmering, each ingredient being added at just the right time. You can find the shortcut version just about anywhere: little shops, big shops, in the heart of Little Saigon, and all along the Convoy. It’s notably evident at any of the restaurants of the Pho Ca Dao chain.