PICTURED: Phở Bắc (left; thin rice noodles and minced filet mignon) and Mỹ Tho Khô Noodle, with egg noodles, pork, shrimp and quail eggs. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Pho Oxnard Vietnamese Restaurant
722 N. Ventura Road, Oxnard
(Fremont Square Shopping Center)
805-485-1531
www.phooxnardrestaurant.com
$6-15

It’s 90 degrees in Midtown Ventura as I write this. Nonetheless, it was deliciously cool not so long ago, and hopefully will be so again in the near future. And what’s better for cold autumn nights than soup? 

Now, I like soup of all kinds, but have a special love for pho. Rice noodles, a savory broth seasoned with ginger, garlic and spice, a do-it-yourself approach with a wide variety of mix-ins . . . yes, a good pho is something I crave often. Enough so that I’ve been known to order it even in the summertime. But there’s nothing quite like dipping your chopsticks into a fresh, steaming bowl of pho when the temps outside have dropped. And thanks to Grubhub, Pho Oxnard will come right to my door.

The hardest part might be determining what to order, because Pho Oxnard has all the options: two kinds of egg noodles, three kinds of rice noodles, vermicelli loose or formed into patties. Beef comes as tripe, rare steak, beef ball, tendon, filet mignon (minced or in chunks) and probably a few others I’m forgetting. I haven’t even gotten to the chicken, pork and seafood choices. Or the non-pho dishes, for that matter.

So, you know, however you like your Vietnamese food, Pho Oxnard probably has it on the menu.

I, like most people, am familiar with fresh, vegetable-laden Vietnamese spring rolls, wrapped in rice paper and served with peanut sauce on the side. Pho Oxnard offers a different roll for every season: spring, with shrimp and pork; summer, with pork paste; autumn, with shrimp paste; and winter, with tofu. We gave the tofu or winter rolls, Gỏi Cuốn Tàu Hủ, a try. They were simple and a little chewy, if I’m being honest. But with some great peanut sauce on the side! A little dip was all we needed to make these somewhat ho-hum starters a true appetizer. 

A traditional pho is an easy avenue to my culinary heart. So our order included the Phở Bắc. This noodle soup featured thin rice noodles and minced filet mignon in a beef broth with ginger, green onions and cilantro. That broth was amazing; I could have drunk it straight from the container on its own. So much flavor that was only improved with the usual pho fixings. A bag filled with bean sprouts, fresh basil leaves, sliced chiles and lemon wedge was included with every dish we ordered, and the noodles were kept separate from the broth itself. So when you’re putting it together at home, it is close to what you’d get onsite.

I do occasionally try something new, so the other soup dish we ordered was the Mỹ Tho Khô Noodle, made with egg noodles served in a “flavorful broth,” which to me tasted like chicken. Also very good, but lighter and milder than the beef broth. This soup had shrimp, barbecued pork and four tiny little quail eggs. Super filling and flavorful; it put me in mind of an extra-moist chow mein. The “homemade sauce” served on the side appeared to be a sort of sweet fish sauce, and adding a little to the bowl did, indeed, pump up the volume.

Cơm Tấm Thịt Nướng, “broken” rice with charbroiled pork and a side salad. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

Cơm tấm is a Vietnamese specialty, usually consisting of flavorful meat served atop “broken rice,” or rice grains that have been fractured. Pho Oxnard has several varieties; we went with the Cơm Tấm Thịt Nướng, with charbroiled pork. The rice was slightly sticky and chewy . . . but in a good way. And it came with a lot of pork, which was a treat! Not extraordinarily tender, but seasoned perfectly. Even the salad served on the side — lettuce, tomato, radish and carrot  — was tasty, dressed with a delicious sweetened fish sauce. Probably unlikely to replace a good beef pho as my meal of choice, but better than I expected.

Overall, the portion sizes were really generous. My husband and I enjoyed as much as we could for lunch, but there was plenty for our kids (15 and 12) to have a reasonably hearty dinner later on. Everything was appreciated by everyone — a rarity in this household — and the ability to customize the sauces, spices and garnishes only made the meal more versatile.

With luck, we’ll get some of that colder fall weather soon. And when I’m looking to warm up with a hot bowl of noodle soup? Pho Oxnard is a sure thing.