I met Hanh, the owner of Pho Cafe through her sister.  I was excited to meet her because I had eaten there before and knew it was famous in the indie scene.  Nowadays, there are crossover pho restaurants opening up everywhere, but ten years ago?  Pho Cafe led the way.  If you look at the minimalist design, to the lucky “8” that wasn’t scratched off their address, to the fact that there isn’t a store sign anywhere, you can tell something is special if you have an eye for it.  Some people hate.  Some people hate some hipsters that go here.  Some people don’t know good food when they have it.  But to the appreciators, they know what a special spot this joint is.  Hanh told me she opened an upscale French Vietnamese restaurant on Melrose and La Brea when she was twenty-one.  An amazing feat for any twenty-one year old as most could imagine.  After closing that restaurant she came back at the restaurant game several years later with a new angle.  Good food, affordable prices, revitalizing a part of town, and great design.  When she was opening the restaurant, she told the chief of police of the Rampart Division, “Do you want gangsters hanging around here, or moms with strollers?”  There was no streetlights, increasing the chance of crime.  In her first year, someone got shot next door to her restaurant, crawled over, and died.  The city thought by her looking for a beer license, she was gonna hurt the area instead of help it!  Ten years later, there is a cool salon and a nice Thai restaurant.

Freddie’s been the head chef here for a while.  He and the other chefs took their time to show a few dishes being prepared.  Next time, I gotta try the banh xeo.  The homemade limeade was sweet and tart, on a hot, eventful day.  The Vietnamese iced coffee was strong, and not overly sweetened by condense milk, the way some places make it.

Le is the manager here.  My brother, shot these photos, besides the crappy underexposed one I took with my iPhone.  We’re both really thankful that Pho Cafe opened their time to us.

The design of the place was a combined effort between Hanh, her husband, and some architect friends.  People have tried to franchise/partner with her on more locations, but she hasn’t found the right fit yet.  It’s really no wonder why she’s had multiple offers if you know this spot and its history.

(photos by John Park / IG @freshtalent )

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