Restaurant of the Week: Pho Vi

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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.

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  • http://pomonaartscolony.blogspot.com/ Pomona’s Art Colonists

    PHO VI is one of the best things to happen in the Downtown in a while!

    We love it, especially for lunch, they are quick, the food is good and healthy and it doesn’t hurt the pocket book. I love the egg rolls, they come with cucumber, shredded carrots, bean sprouts and large lettuce leaves to roll them up with a delicious dipping sauce…..$3 and change….yum!

    -Susie

  • Lyn Williams

    Thank you, David, for taking the time to review my dear friend’s restaurant Pho Vi.

    Ngoc, the owner’s daughter, has told me she has seen you in there several times, but has never wanted to approach you to chat, as she says that you seem involved in your book, and she doesn’t want to invade your privacy. But, I laughed and told her, you have to be like me and charge in there like a bull — as I generally do when I see you, David — and say hello!

    May I recommend to you the pork chop dish? I don’t know what number it is, but I call it Mama Vi’s pork chops.

    I want to thank you for supporting the small business entities in the community –you can’t imagine what kind of an impact you have and how it increases retail traffic — and you are to be admired for it. By the way — sorry to hear about your furlough — but, thanks for keeping up the blog. You’re swell! Thank you again.

    Lyn Williams

    [Glad you read this post, Lyn, since you're the one who told me about Pho Vi before it even opened. I'm only sorry it took me so long to get around to writing about it. But sometimes these posts are better when I'm more familiar with a place. Tell Ngoc (I don't know which one she is) to introduce herself next time. And I'll try the pork chops. -- DA]

  • http://goddessofpomona.com Goddess of Pomona

    As it happens, we just now came from eating dinner at Pho Vi: the #49 and a bowl of pho. I love love love the place! And am so happy they are doing brisk business.

    My only only complaint is the huge flat screen TV in the center of the restaurant which I find very imposing and intrusive. I realize this is the latest trend in restaurants, but I wish they would consider getting rid of it. Perhaps Lyn can ask her friend? I suppose we can start sitting on the part of the L where you can’t see the TV, but I always forget that until we’ve already been seated.

    Literally every time I’ve gone there, I have seen someone I know from either Lincoln Park or Claremont.

  • Cheryl

    Glad YOU are back.

    Very much missed.

  • A. S. Ashley

    Pho Vi not only hits the spot as far as a Downtown Pomona restaurant, but its 9AM to 10PM, 7 days a week operating hours means anytime is a good time for Pho Vi!

  • Long

    I am a Vietnamese and I go to Pho Vi all the time. While the food there is all right compared to the more authentic dishes in Orange County (Little Saigon), its service and clean atmosphere is what impressed me the most.

    I like the fact that you can sit outside under the awning and enjoy the food. On a good day, you can almost feel as if you are sitting in Hawaii while enjoying a delicious bowl of pho (Vietnamese beef noodles).

    The restaurant is clean and nicely decorated as opposed to most traditional Vietnamese restaurants which only cater towards the food and not the atmosphere.

    They should consider hiring girls to wear the Vietnamese long dresses (ao dai). That will definitely attract more customers.

    [Thanks for your thoughts. I like the outdoor seating too. -- DA]