"Let's go to Pho Ao Sen" in the old Sizzler [Albany, San Pablo Ave]

Please note: This post isn’t about pho. Or The Slums of Beverly Hills.

We had a really enjoyable dinner there last night. Our first time. I’m a sucker for a parking lot and no waiting so that was 2 points right there. It’s bright, spacious, quiet. Nice mix of families with little kids, post-teen couples holding hands, and us.

Us: One spice-averse hungry old guy and one heat-loving STARVING old lady

Cranky levels: Moderate, mostly due to having the Repub debate on in the car on the drive over from the old lady’s office.

Yelpers complained this place was too fast, no time to look at the menu, etc. For us, not a problem because my husband gently but firmly said he needed a few minutes and it was a good pace thereafter. What he DID like was the immediate bringing of water, answers to questions. This is a place we went to eat, not to dine, so we actually appreciated the promptness with the iced and hot tea we ordered. Our server was helpful and a manager (I guess) checked in to see if were liking stuff.

We shared the fresh rolls with prawns to start. They were better than others I’ve had in Berkeley and Le Cheval. Fresher rice-paper wrappers, for one, and with more flavor from the prawns, cucumbers, and mint. Also the peanut sauce was…just better, especially when I added the house chili sauce.

Mr. Snaxx had the grilled pork combo rice plate with prawns that disappeared fast. It worked for him.

I had Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio, a rice noodle bowl with grilled pork, egg rolls, pickled carrot/daikon, cucumber, bean sprouts, lettuce, mint, peanuts, and fish sauce. My go-to but there are a million ways it can be loused up, from pre-grilled pork that’s dry, to old and clumpy vermicelli, to wet lettuce, to fish sauce that tastes like it was made in huge batches, very far away, a long time ago. But this bowl – no problems. Still-sizzling pork covered in green onion and shallots, fresh noodles, crisp egg rolls, and fish sauce that was great even before I added the house chili sauce.

Our bill was around $30.00 before tip and we were there for a little over an hour. For a weeknight dinner, it works really well for us: delicious, relaxing, good value. (Context: We went to Saul’s on Monday night to hear Klezmer music (it was great) but dropped $70+ for meals we thought were just shy of sending back. Nice people but service was all over the place.)

Sadly, one soup they don’t have is Canh chua tôm (hot and sour soup with prawns) but that’s to be expected, I guess, as that’s South Vietnamese and this place is largely North. I still really miss my SF place (now closed) on Clement, Minh’s Garden. They had both my noodle bowl and the soup.

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I’ve been here a couple times- I go to the Oakland one all the time for 10 years or more, since it was in the little place on International. I only get Bo Kho, the beef stew, but it’s as good as Oakland and the special satay sauce is the same. Parking is nice and in principle it’s easier for me to get to at lunch (from Emeryville) but the 80 is so bad so often these days that I eat at my desk more often than not.

Closed Wednesdays if I’m not mistaken.

This is a welcome addition to the area! I’ve been here twice, once when they first opened and another time last week (much, much less crowded), and it’s head and shoulders above the other Vietnamese places nearby.

Pho Ga Dac Biet (House Special Chicken Noodle Soup) was served with juicy chicken both in the soup and on the side. My complaint about ordering chicken pho at other places is that the same meat used to make the stock is shredded and tossed back in with the noodles, resulting in stringy meat that I usually push aside, but not here. Also, the greens and sprouts served with my pho were fresh and varied - not just a few sprigs of cilantro and bean sprouts.

The chicken on the side is like the Cantonese bok cheet gai, meaning that it was a poached chicken accompanied by a ginger dipping sauce. My dish had both white and dark meat, and even the white meat was juicy.

I’ve also ordered the Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese style fish with tumeric and dill), and although it was good, I probably won’t order it again. My preference would have been for more dill and less oil. It came with a giant, fried rice cracker, an anchovy dipping sauce, and plain rice noodles.

I only had a few bites of the Bun Thit Nong Cha Gio, and the egg rolls and grilled pork were excellent. The grilled pork was moist.

Their housemade chili sauce (lemongrass, either fermented dried fish or shrimp, shallots, chili, sugar) is outstanding.

Thanks for that chicken noodle soup intel, it sounds painfully good to me right now, before lunch. I had the same pleasant sense of the greens in our fresh rolls, so much better than I’ve become accustomed to.

The only thing I might change in my next noodle bowl would be to see if the “egg roll” could be a regular imperial roll that has glass noodles ad other stuff in it, in addition to the ground pork. The egg rolls are ground pork rolls – very tasty but not entirely necessary when I’m also having grilled pork. Not that I’m complain about too much pork!

I agree – both their table sauces elevated the whole place, which I already liked a lot.

Range chicken?

Actually, Wildtomato’s description reminded me of the sauce that comes with the salt-baked chicken at Ton Kiang in SF. The ingredients are totally different but the pairing of a fresh, pungent dipping sauce with delicately cooked chicken was similar. I’ve loved that sauce since 1992, and used to ask for it with anything I ordered from TK. My home recreation has minced serranos or jalapeños, rice wine vinegar, garlic, a touch of neutral oil, salt, and sugar. I don’t see TK talked about much but a dim sum blow-out there was a go-to treat for me for many years.

The menu lists the chicken as free range.

Just went to Pho Ao Sen for the first time today. I just had an appetizer of the Cha Gio eggrolls, which were excellent and served with nice, fresh romaine and mint for wrapping. My boyfriend got the Pho Dac Biet Bo Vien (#2) which was huge and came with a ton of meat. I tried the broth and it was flavorful, probably could have just a bit more seasoning. I didn’t try it but he said the meatballs were superb. I thought the service was great and the place was packed but we didn’t have to wait at all.

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I’ve been biting my tongue, but shouldn’t a pho joint in an old Sizzler be named “Pho Sizzle”?

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I’m glad it was packed! It wasn’t very busy when we went and I was trying not to worry that I’d soon lose my new favorite noodle bowl spot.

Someone near my hometown beat you to it… http://www.phoshizzle.ca

Even Shanghai hsd a Pho Sizzling by 2009.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold