Pho Vi, 281 S. Thomas St. (at Third), Pomona
Pho Vi opened in early 2008 in downtown Pomona, in a corner of the 1912 Founders Building that had seen a variety of marginal businesses in recent years. In preparation for its opening, the sidewalk was widened to allow patio dining.
As aficionados know, Pomona is home to several exemplary Vietnamese restaurants, most of them on East Holt between Clark and Indian Hill, but Pho Vi is the first attempt downtown. It may have represented something of a gamble, but perhaps because downtown is light on sit-down restaurants, Pho Vi was an immediate hit, especially during the monthly art walk or when there’s a concert up the block at the Glass House.
I first went there last May and I’ve gone back almost a dozen times, ordering something new each visit. The menu has 222 numbered items, which should keep me busy through Obama’s second term. (On one visit, employees were overheard testing each other on their recall of the menu: “147!” “Sauteed mixed vegetable fried noodle!”)
I’m far from an expert on Vietnamese cuisine, but my own experience and that of friends tells me Pho Vi, while perhaps not the best in Pomona, is among the best.
There are three dozen examples of pho (pronounced “fuh”), the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, most of them under $6.50 even for a two-person bowl. You also get a plate of mint leaves, bean sprouts and lime wedges to season the soup to your taste.
(The very long thin noodles are a challenge to eat if you’re not good with chopsticks; I always, rather shamefacedly, twirl them with a fork against my soup spoon, like spaghetti, hoping no one sees me.)
There are dozens upon dozens of rice and noodle dishes, often with charbroiled pork, beef or shrimp. I’ve had a few of these too and liked them quite a bit.
The restaurant is L-shaped, done in shades of green, with an industrial look. Each table has jars and bottles of various spices and containers of cutlery and chopsticks. The service is prompt, but rather than make you feel rushed, they rather quaintly never bring a bill until you motion for it. The place is family-run, with the oldest member of the family usually seen sitting at a table reading a Vietnamese-language newspaper.
Also, their neon sign, which lends an urban feel to the corner, is really cool.