Fall in Southern California doesn’t feel much different than winter or spring. The weather drops a few degrees and we desperately cling to anything that will make it feel like the season has actually changed. Starbucks is inundated with Pumpkin Spice Latte orders, Hunter rain boots stomp around at the first sign of a mere drizzle, and families raid pumpkin patches in their best flannels — seemingly oblivious to the fact that it’s a moderate 68 degrees. Alas, I am one of those people, and naturally my first instinct as an official welcoming of fall is a hot bowl of pho (confession: I’ve enjoyed pho on air conditioned summer days as well.)
Chateau Lemongrass in Eagle Rock recently satisfied my pho craving, and more, with a lengthy list of choices under the pho category: From simply noodles, vegetarian and tofu to shrimp, chicken, pork, beef, filet mignon, rare beef and well-done beef brisket.
Located on Colorado Boulevard, Chateau Lemongrass is considered fast casual, but it still manages to feel intimate. I began with the Vietnamese lemonade ($3.75) made with lime juice, hand-squeezed and delicious. The drink is topped with a mint garnish and sparkling water, adding a nice touch of carbonation, and would be even better as a cocktail.
I noticed the pho tacos ($5) labeled “new” on the menu. A choice of beef brisket or fried tofu served on a corn tortilla with green and white onions, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, and drizzled with lime juice, hoisin and Sriracha. The combination of flavors is tangy and genuinely tastes like a helping of pho wrapped in a tortilla — something I didn’t know I was missing, until now.
The brisket is light and tender, a good contrast to the crunchy bean sprouts, and the fried tofu is a savory alternative. Although I went in for the pho, four of these tacos alone would be sufficiently satisfying and worthwhile.
The spring rolls ($8) were delicious but not out of the ordinary. Here vermicelli, lettuce, shallots, bean sprouts and mint are wrapped into rice paper rolls and served with homemade peanut sauce.
But what makes Chateau Lemongrass really stand out is their extremely wide array of options for both meat-lovers and vegetarians, something not common among pho restaurants.
Whenever I’ve asked for the slightest of modifications at some of my favorite places, I’ve felt like I was causing an inconvenience. Here, no modification was necessary as they did the work preemptively and the friendly staff was more than happy to make recommendations. The spring roll can be ordered with shrimp and steamed pork, grilled pork, shredded chicken, shredded tofu, fried tofu, pure veggies, or as an assorted trio.
Along with spring rolls, other appetizer offerings, according to their menu, include: egg rolls, deep fried and packed with vermicelli, lettuce, cilantro and pickled carrots, served with a homemade house sauce; deep-fried calamari strips sautéed with garlic, onion and jalapeños, then served with a sweet chili sauce; deep-fried chicken wings sautéed with garlic, onion and jalapenos and served with a sweet chili sauce; crispy shrimp served much the same way as the wings; and a house salad featuring cabbage, onion, pickled carrots, shallots, mints and crushed peanuts, served with a house vinaigrette dressing.
Now, onto the reason we were here. There are 10 different types of pho offered, of which I recommend the “new” filet mignon ($10.50), well done beef brisket ($8.50), and (gasp), the vegetarian pho ($8.75). While the vegetarian option is heartier than most I’ve tried (filled with mushrooms, carrots, bok choy and tofu), the true testament to good pho is beef, and Lemongrass does not disappoint. To put it simply, I wanted to dive into the broth and consume it for days on end. Luckily, the serving is large enough that I took the rest home for the following day. Needless to say, it’s a must try.
A big part of their menu is their unique “Customize Your Own Dish” option. First you choose your protein (we tried filet mignon $11), second is to choose a base (rice, vermicelli, or a baguette), and third choose any desired add-ons for a slight upcharge. Different base options in addition to beef include charbroiled pork ($8.50), BBQ chicken ($8.50), charbroiled shrimp ($8.75), and sauteed or shredded tofu ($8.50). You can add on egg rolls or spring rolls, veggies, extra noodles, rice, or more protein ($1.50-$4). This allows for a completely personalized dish that is guaranteed to please.
In an area like Eagle Rock where there are plenty of hidden gems, Chateau Lemongrass’ unique fare and willingness to let their customers decide for themselves is a breath of fresh air. Or a cool breeze, if we’re lucky this October.
952 Colorado Blvd., | Eagle Rock | (323) 258-8050