Cursed no more

Pho Sacto

Every spoonful of the hu tieu nam vang yields rich ground pork, Chinese celery or chewy rice noodles.

Every spoonful of the hu tieu nam vang yields rich ground pork, Chinese celery or chewy rice noodles.

photo by karlos rene ayala

Good for: quick lunch or dinner
Notable dishes: hu tieu nam vang soup
Vietnamese, South Sacramento

Pho Sacto

6434 Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95823

(916) 346-4088

Sometimes a restaurant location just seems cursed. Case in point: the space on 18th and L that in recent years has been home to L Wine Lounge (during Sac’s regrettable “lounge” phase), Capital Dime (which once served me an overpriced meal that made me very, very angry), and most recently, Saddle Rock (which served me a chicken schmaltz biscuit and stuffed trout that I still think about). More recently, it has hosted popular pop-ups from vegan spot The Burger Patch, and if they move into the space, I wish them the best of luck.

A less hyped example, but one I always pay attention to on my way to the legendary Quan Nem Ninh Hoa, is the current location of the new Pho Sacto that opened in early January. It previously housed Basil Noodle House (also Vietnamese), Long Sandwich (one of the three Sacramento branches of the banh mi chain) and briefly, Pho Aroma, which made Jonathan Mendick’s roundup of the top 10 pho restaurants in the pages of SN&R.

Which is all to say that the deck may be stacked against this promising newcomer, and the constant flow of sketchy action in the parking lot due to a nearby liquor store is not going to help. Last time I was there, my husband and I were keeping a vigilant eye on a parked car in which the twitchy owners kept changing places without apparent reason; when one of them donned a pig mask, my heartbeat skipped a few beats.

Luckily, I was sipping from a bowl of the best hu tieu nam vang ($9.50) that I’ve had outside of Vietnam, so I knew if some shit went down, I’d go out living my best life. The car eventually left with no incident, and the inside of Pho Sacto is a fake-foliage-festooned oasis of calm.

“Nam Vang” is the Vietnamese word for Phnom Penh, and this complicated soup is of Cambodian-Chinese origin. Pho Sacto serves a dry version as well, but the star of the hu tieu was the deeply savory broth; I preferred the soup to the dry noodles. Each sip and bite yielded bits of rich ground pork, verdant Chinese celery (can tau) or chewy rice noodle.

The serviceable but ultimately boring pho ($7.95-$9.75) is heavily spiced by star anise, with unpleasantly clumped noodles that had to be separated with chopsticks. The tendon lacked the preferred gummy texture, and calling the steak “rare” was a stretch.

The bun bo hue ($8.25) has a strong fish sauce and shrimp paste flavor, but lacked the traditional lemongrass notes.

As for the non-bowl-based dishes, the bland, rice paper-wrapped spring rolls ($5.25) somehow managed to be lettuce forward, despite the shrimp-and-pork filling, and the com tam dac diet (specialty broken rice plate, $13) couldn’t rival that of Com Tam Dat Thanh, a restaurant that specializes in broken rice dishes. The sweet-glazed and lightly chewy pork chop in the com tam plate at Pho Sacto was good enough that it is a close second.

I won’t be going back for the pho—Pho Xe Lua is my current go-to—but the hu tieu nam vang is not to be missed.