The story: Opened near the new Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, Monster Pho is a new generation of Vietnamese restaurants. The owner, Tee Tran, wanted to open a restaurant serving up traditional family dishes, but with a community feel to draw diners of all backgrounds.
Why I went: This is another new offering that’s within walking distance of my Oakland apartment, so it’s convenient when I’m looking for pho or craving some Vietnamese dishes. Because I live so close, I’ve gone several times for lunch and dinner.
The vibe: A mixed crowd with a lot of hospital workers during the day, and neighborhood residents at dinner. A contemporary space that’s sparsely decorated, the two flat screen TVs on the wall showing sports give Monster Pho a sports bar feel.
The menu: Although pho is in the name, there’s not a large selection of the traditional Vietnamese soup noodles. There’s only three bowls: beef, chicken and vegetable (you can choose between regular or large bowls). But there are a lot of other traditional Vietnamese dishes including crepes and spring rolls, vermicelli noodle dishes, rice dishes and lettuce cups. There’s also a nice selection of drinks, although I thought the iced ginger lemonade ($4) was more lemon than ginger.
My favorite dish: I can’t really name one dish that blew me away where I would order again and again. Everything served up was nice but nothing spectacular, such as the Monster pho combo ($12), which was filled with meatballs, tripe and rare meat, but the broth seemed a bit light, not intense in beef flavor. The vermicelli bowl ($10, I had it with chicken), was a nice order, done fresh.
Insider tip: If you’re thinking of getting the banh mi ($7), the sandwiches in French rolls, split it with a friend or be prepared to bring leftovers home. It’s not clear in the menu, but the order actually comes with two sandwiches, which is actually a lot. The sandwiches are just like the ones you can get in Chinatown, with authentic ingredients and flavors, including the crusty French roll. But remember, you’re getting two!
The last bite: Monster Pho tries to be fun with its name, but they don’t play with the food. Instead, it’s traditional and authentic, although it can sometimes seem a bit sanitized. Service is welcoming but can be neglectful later when it gets busy. Not necessarily breaking new ground, Monster Pho is a convenient, friendly spot if you’re in the neighborhood.
The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Monster Pho, 3905 Broadway (near 40th), Oakland. PH: 510.788.4459. Open Wednesday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Tuesday. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.monsterpho.com
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