Using Their Noodle
By Matt Tapia
Let’s be clear about something: I still think the best damn bowl of phở is to be had in San Bernardino. It’s a place called Phở Ha on Mill Street, just shy of Waterman Avenue. And I know it’s good for several reasons. First, during a roughly two-year stint working off of E Street, this was my go-to phở place, the place I always returned to even after sampling similar noodle shops (including one literally a block away from Phở Ha) across San Bernardino and Riverside counties (this place on La Sierra Avenue in Riverside is also mighty tasty). Plus what made Phở Ha cool is that it was the type of place with a following. You could walk in there on any given lunchtime and you’d find plenty of regulars; a whole rainbow of them, from cops to white-shirted business types, from working-class stiffs to students, from underpaid journalists (that’s me) to amateur foodies, from whites to Asians to every color in between.
Phở Long is not Phở Ha.
That being said, this Corona soup purveyor off McKinley Street does have its merits and virtues—enough to make it a good Plan B when you’re fiending for rice noodles and San Berdoo is just too far of a drive.
This is a sort of quirky place (Christmas ornaments and plastic snowflakes as decorations?), and true to form, there’s Asian soft pop music playing in the background and several fish tanks scattered about—both perhaps to add a soothing touch. In one corner sits a little glass booth-counter thing filled with little dolls and trinkets.
After that, I had enough sightseeing, so I made moves to order up the biggest bowl of phở this place had to offer . . . and this is when the little details become a big deal. For the uninitiated, when you order phở, your server will also bring out a big plate of traditional garnishes; bean sprouts, slices of lime, slices of jalapeño and basil leaves. These items are then added to the soup, as much or as little as you like. The smorgasbord of crisp freshness (oh, how those sprouts snap!), tartness and spiciness act in stark contrast to the broth-iness and heartiness of the soup. I’m accustomed to getting thin slices of jalapeño, but here at Phở Long, you get chunks. Big ones. Basically, the jalapeño was simply cut in half here and sent on its merry way. Nice. Any place that doesn’t pussyfoot around its spices earns major cool points with me.
Oh, and that broth—there’s an undercurrent of sweetness and spice (thanks, star anise and cardamom) that makes this warm, caramel-tinted liquid so memorable. The noodles were skinny, but you got plenty of them. And they didn’t stick together like they do when they’re poorly cooked at other places. Let’s put it this way: it wasn’t even soup weather on the day I sampled this tasty meal and my bowl ended up licked clean nonetheless.
I also took the opportunity to try out Phở Long’s spring rolls and they were . . . alright. Not Gra-Pow (this place in Riverside sports some mighty fine rolls!) awesome—just good; but really, it’s the pipin‘ hot soup that reigns supreme here so I’m not gonna bust this place’s balls over its appetizers.
So Phở Long might not be the bride, but she’s a great bridesmaid that won’t let you down with a mediocre lunch. Soup weather be damned.
Phở Long, 127 N. McKinley St., #103, Corona, (951) 340-0342.