Shrimp Pho the Soul — Daily Pho

Flavorful broth in a sea of noodles.

You’re sick and can’t tell if you’re hungry or still queasy.

Mild lunch is the best call, something like broth. A Yelp check on what’s by El Camino College shows several Vietnamese pho restaurants offering bowls of broth, rice noodles, herbs and a variety of meats.

A catchy named place named What Pho? is unfortunately closed on a Monday, but the next highest-rated Vietnamese soup joint is Daily Pho, just south of Marine Avenue on Western, a short drive from the college.

You arrive to a strip mall of Asian restaurants. The Daily Pho menu is handed to you by a friendly. elderly Asian man in a uniform that would probably double for work clothes in an auto garage (it’s clean, though). The sound of Mexican music and CNN in the background and a decor that looks like an Asian diner and a boba drink bar eloped are the opening impressions.

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Quite quaint.

It’s pleasing amusement. And so is the pho, which comes in a variety of ways with many meats. Rare steak, brisket, tripe, meatballs, chicken, squid, ox tail and more.

But today, the pho is kept simple: shrimp.

A few minutes later, a half dozen big, fat shrimp arrive in a giant bowl, and they’ve been thrown into a kelp forest of noodles with some cilantro, onions and other greens, along with a platter of basil, bean sprouts and chilies on the side.

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And this is the small bowl.
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For a touch more crunch or spicy flair.

A ladle will easily scoop the broth and diced greens. Chopsticks, however, are the only way to work with the mass of noodles, which dam up more of the succulent broth and the occasional shrimp that has soaked the flavors in.

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The noodles are thick enough to double as wiring for a computer lab.

The broth hits the spot, the shrimps are plump and the noodles are … well,  chewy and plentiful. What more could you ask for under $10 with a Thai iced tea with whipped cream on top?

Well, there are rice dishes, banh mi, boba drinks and other things to consider. But that’s for another time.

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Pho Daily is located at 15126 S. Western Ave. in Gardena and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Wi-Fi is available on the premises; ask for the password. Phone: (310) 630-4915. A menu can be found on its Yelp page: https://www.yelp.com/biz/pho-daily-gardena.

The All You Can Eat Chronicles: Little Trouble in Big Wok

Enough sizzling meat and vegetables to satisfy a horde.

Note: Part of an occasional series on local AYCE restaurants near campus.

In the 2007 film “Mongol,” Genghis Khan, enjoying a barbecue with the wife and kids before annihilating a city in China, talks about wanting to spread his language across the world, starting with the word for meat.

In the more civilized 21st century, he probably could do a good job in doing so with opening a chain of restaurants similar to Big Wok Mongolian BBQ in Manhattan Beach.

A bit of a drive from El Camino College — travel west down Artesia Boulevard and turn right on Sepulveda Boulevard in Manhattan Beach, Big Wok will be on your passenger side as you descend the first hill.

While you won’t learn the Mongolian word for meat, you’ll have plenty of it — frozen chicken, beef, pork, turkey, lamb, tofu and more spread on a buffet line among a mass of noodles and vegetables, which are then seared on a hot stone and served in minutes.

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Consider two bowls on a trip to the buffet line; one for noodles and vegetables, the other for meats, such as lamb pictured here. Curry sauce optional.
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Noodles, vegetables and meats dance on the cooking stone.
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Pictured here are noodles, lamb, a small bit of beef and chicken, water chestnuts, cilantro, pineapple, cabbage, mushrooms and scallions in a curry sauce.

Upon returning to your seat there should be a drink waiting for you along with complimentary rice and toasted sesame seed buns. It’s best to probably make a trip to the restroom to wash your hands just in case from using the tongs to pick up raw frozen meat. This also allows for a chance to let the food and bread cool.

A dispenser for hand sanitizer is located near the buffet as well in case the restrooms are occupied or you don’t want to make the trek across the building.

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Delicious bread, but it tends to be pretty hot to handle. Also, a bit sharp on the gums.

About that bread: it’s fresh and goes well with the meal, but it can have searing hot pockets of air trapped in and the exterior can be crisp and sharp enough to cut your gums. Be careful.

So we’ve discussed the journey. How does the arrival fare when this food goes into your mouth?

The meats are lean, noodles are just right in texture and the produce is fresh.

There’s a variety of sauces at the end of the buffet line that can add more spice. The curry sauce is particularly enjoyable; it’s hot enough to make one cough, salty enough to forget about the table salt, adds a nice punch to the meats and veggies and pairs well with pineapple chunks and crisp water chestnuts.

As for price, it’s not cheap (dinner and a drink reaches close to $20 a person), so if you’re watching the wallet it’s advisable to try to make the lunch sessions. There’s a no leftover policy here for dining in, but food can be taken out and weighed if you’re on the go.

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Take out rules and prices at Big Wok.

This place is not a quiet one. Aside from the scrapes and clanks from the cooking area, it’s generally busy inside and two large screen TVs usually have a sporting event on them with the volume up considerably.

There’s a few issues with Big Wok — you might be queasy about handling raw meat on a buffet line, the overeating risk and the dangerous sesame bread — but at its price and taste, it’s worth it.

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Big Wok Mongolian BBQ is located at 250 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Manhattan Beach and is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 9:30 p.m. weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays and 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays. Phone: (310) 798-1155. Website: http://www.bigwok-mongolian-barbq.com/.

The All-You-Can-Eat Chronicles: The Mystery at the Inca Gourmet

What the hell did I eat?

Note: Part of an occasional series on local A.Y.C.E. restaurants near campus.

There should be a law for buffets to label all their dishes offered.

Accurately, too.

That was the case when I went to the Inca Gourmet buffet in Lawndale for dinner.

With the exception of a few dishes— most notably, the watermelon and pineapple chunks — nothing was labeled. Even so, who knows if the sticky notes were above the right item, as some appeared to have been blown around by the winds.

Not being an expert on Peruvian food, I had no idea what I was getting, other than what I could tell from experience: rice, fried bananas, chicken, potatoes. A lot of chicken and potato dishes. What’s the difference between them aside from a sauce color? Can’t tell.

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To this day, I have no clue what this is, other than rice, potatoes, assorted vegetables and chicken.

This was a first for me, almost flying blind in a restaurant. I’ve been to a number of chaotic buffets where things may be hastily labeled. And I’ve been to exotic restaurants offering Eastern European, Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Tibetan and Middle Eastern dishes that had some sort of English description of what the dishes were.

I could tell there were a number of stews offering fish and tripe. I didn’t get a chance to try any lomo saltado, a late discovery I made when I moved a few old sticky notes around, but it looked like there was barely any steak bits in the bin.

It was a noisy joint by the way. CNN in Spanish was on full-blast, and the tables were alive with conversations. Combine the TV, the hectic atmosphere of the place, the wait staff’s poor English and my bad Spanish, there was probably no chance at identifying much of anything. Checking up photos of items and sticky notes on Google and Wikipedia didn’t always pan out. An online menu for take-out orders didn’t help either.

Eating at the Inca Gourmet gave a feeling of being stranded in a foreign country with no idea what you’re doing; just waiting for the pick-up and grabbing whatever the local fare is.

Another thing I noticed was it wasn’t all Peruvian fare. Chinese buffets tend to have the odd habit of throwing a pizza, french fries and other non-Chinese foods onto the buffet trays. I still chuckle at the memory of a Chinese buffet in Riverside County that put Oreos in the dessert section under a heat lamp. But it makes sense when consider small children and the no-frills steak and potatoes crowd.

Inca Gourmet did the same, only putting Chinese fried wontons along with fries — which actually, after reading up, are typical sides for lomo saltado. I think I recognized chow mein in one bin. When I came home to Google through my notes and pictures to identify dishes, I noticed the restaurant boasted “Peruvian-style Chinese food.” Hm. Well, the fried rice I scooped up on a second trip to the buffet was good.

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Chocolate cake for sure on top (and tasty, too). Possibly flan on the right and almond cake on the left.

The food wasn’t bad. It was decent for $12 and change for the buffet and a soda. But aside from the enigma of the dishes, nothing really stood out.

Basically it comes down to sentences like this: “The potatoes and chicken in the green sauce was better than the potatoes and chicken in the red sauce.”

Should you eat at the Inca Gourmet? Ask yourself if you want to take a $12 gamble and find out.

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Inca Gourmet is located at 15651 Hawthorne Blvd. in Lawndale. Open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.