Pho the Love of Vegan
9021Pho does vegan right
I had driven by 9021Pho a number of times in Westlake Village, each time wondering whether it was worth a stop (or whether there would be vegan options available). Then one night my dad mentioned a pho craving and asked if I wanted to try the place out. I can’t believe I waited so long!
Once you get passed the cheesy name, there is a lot to like about this place. Not only does 9021Pho have a variety of vegan options, but they also have a nice variety of full leaf teas (love!) which one can partake of during their daily tea AND alcohol happy hour. The white tea, which I tried on my first visit, has a natural sweetness and delicate flavor, making it my favorite so far. The tea is served in lovely glass pots over a candle to keep the tea warm throughout your meal.
The ambiance of 9021Pho is like an upscale noodle bar and café. Classic jazzy music (another of my faves) permeates and sets a mood of upbeat relaxation. As I turned each page on the menu I grew more excited by the options. First, with the appetizers: we tried the vegan crispy spring rolls and vegan postickers. Each comes with a dipping sauce–a sweet chili sauce for the spring rolls, and a rich hoisin and tamarind type sauce for the pot stickers. Both were great, but I’d have to say the pot stickers, with their unique filling of pureed yucca and mushrooms, won me over. You can also order the vegan sampler, which comes with both of the above plus crispy mock chicken.
For my entrée I of course tried the vegan pho, called Pho Chay. This generously sized soup was filled with fresh vegetables, including bok choy, mushrooms, baby corn, and carrots, plus tofu. But what really won me over was the vegetable broth. I am used to most veggie broths tasting pretty much the same, so I was blown away by the complexity and lightness of this version. There was a slight sweetness, a distinct freshness (enhanced by the fresh lime and basil served on the side), and wonderful complement of flavors that I wish I could identify in this soup. It was love at first Pho. (Sorry, had to do it). The best part was that the serving was so large I had plenty to take home for leftovers, which were just as good—if not better—than the night of.
Dessert was coconut sorbet, and despite usually avoiding sugar I couldn’t resist. It was rich and filled with tantalizing chunks of coconut, and best of all it was served in a half coconut shell! The mango sorbet was served in half a mango skin. Nice touch. I appreciate attention to detail and presentation, especially when the taste lives up to the look. However, if you are trying to avoid processed sugar, I would say stay away from the dessert menu.
I can’t speak for the meat options at this restaurant, but I will vouch for the tastiness of the vegan options. I’ve seen yelp reviews about 9021pho that complain it isn’t ‘authentic’ Vietnamese. To me, if something tastes wonderful and healthy, I don’t care whether it is classified as authentic anything (as long as its vegan!). Besides, who is to say what is and what is not authentic in our widely mixed cultures. The owner and head chef of 9021Pho is Vietnamese and grew up in Vietnam, so I’m guessing she knows a thing or two about Vietnamese cuisine. I for one am quite happy with her culinary interpretations.
There are other vegan options on the menu as well, including salads, curries, and noodle dishes. So far I’ve tried the tamarind tossed salad and Vietnamese Curry with vegan chicken. Both were fresh, healthy dishes with nice flavor, but just not as unique and exciting as the pho. Besides, I’m not typically a big fan of fake meat unless it is REALLY good. I’ll be sticking with the classics at this place.
In fact, I’ve been back three times since my first visit (which was only about 2 months ago). I even chose to go here for my birthday. I can tell it’s going to be one of my regular favorites, whether there is a chill in the air, a rumble in my tummy, or I know I’m going to want the leftovers the next morning—even vegan pho can be a great hangover cure…not that I know from experience. 😉
9021Pho, located in Westlake Village, Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks, and Glendale
* Great selection of vegan options (plus non-vegan for friends who like the more traditional meaty pho). Bonus: Noodles are gluten-free
*Very fresh and light, seems healthy without too much salt or oil
*Pleasant ambiance and friendly wait staff
*Tea happy hour!
*May be perceived as slightly pricey as pho goes (just under $10), but you will likely have decent leftovers, and the quality/flavor of the food is worth it in my opinion.
*Not a fully vegan restaurant (for those who prefer not to eat in places that serve meat)
If you love pho, or have never tried it but want to be a bit adventurous, this is the place to go! Even my Midwestern mom, who things black pepper = spicy, loved her chicken pho. A fun, casual place to grab lunch or dinner, and even to celebrate special occasions. This may not be your hole in the wall pho place, but how many of those are vegan-friendly??
Individual food item reviews:
Vegan spring rolls: These bite-sized crispy fried rolls are definitely a treat, but I was not completely won over on their flavor. I tend to be less than enthused by most deep fried foods (which I am assuming these were), even if they are vegan. A good all around crowd-pleaser, just not my favorite.
Health: 2.5 out of 5 (because fried, fake meat)
Taste: 3.5/5 (though I know others who absolutely love these)
Vegan won tons: I know these are not much healthier than fried spring rolls, but these little dumpling like won tons are boiled, so the vegetable flavor comes through in a cleaner, more satisfying way. One of my preferred appetizers!
Pho Chay: A unique vegetable pho that packs a lot of flavor without seeming heavy or overly seasoned. A wonderful balance of freshness and warmth. Good for what ails you. Addictive!
Health: 4/5 (based on what I can gather from ingredients)
Coconut sorbet: Creamy and smooth, with chunks of coconut and a strong, natural coconut flavor. I’m sure there is a lot of sugar in this sorbet, but it didn’t taste overly sweet—the sweetness was well balanced with the creaminess.
Health: 1/5 (I’m assuming high concentration of refined sugar)
Tamarind tossed salad: This is a great option if you are looking for something light or to share as an appetizer. It was less exciting than expected, with mostly lettuce and a few other veggies. The dressing was decent but a bit sweet for my taste (I’m not a big fan of sweet vinaigrettes either). This would not be my first choice for a meal.
Vietnamese Curry with fake chicken: Again, not a bad choice if you are into a more mild, light stir-fry. The curry sauce has a nice flavor but is not memorable. I did like that the curry didn’t seem overly oily or processed. Other than the fake chicken (which was tasty but not necessarily healthy) I’d say this is a fairly healthy dish, but not very memorable.