Thursday, February 7, 2019

Quick Bite: Pho Cow Cali Is the World's Fastest Decent Sit-Down Restaurant

Sorry, no time for a better photo.
15 minutes, remember?
Sometimes, there's just no time in the day for a decent meal—or so I thought, until Mira Mesa's Pho Cow Cali proved otherwise.

There are days when I only have a half hour between appointments for a late lunch. Factor in driving, and it seems like an impossibly narrow sliver of time—yet Cali makes it happen. The logistics of it are a thing of beauty. Let's walk through a meal together (with some recommended musical accompaniment):

2:26pm: I'm in and seated. I'm handed a menu, but I already know what I want: the #44, rice vermicelli with egg rolls and BBQ pork. I double-check the menu to confirm the number.

2:27: The waiter is back with a glass of water. I order and take a quick restroom break.

2:29: I return just as lunch arrives, a steaming bowl of noodles, meat and veggies. I ask for the check right away, then quickly slather the vermicelli in red chili sauce and dig in.

2:35: My check is paid, the entire transaction complete in under ten minutes. The only limiting factor is my slow eating.

2:41: I get up to leave. As exit, I check my phone, then double-take in disbelief: It's been 15 minutes since I walked in.

The kicker is that the food is really quite good. The bowl is piping hot, filled to the brim. Rice noodles are hard to get wrong, sure—especially not with a half gallon of chili sauce. The pork, though, is savory with a hint of sweetness, fat expertly rendered into tenderness and topped with scallions. Only a couple of slightly chewy pieces keep it from being perfect. The egg roll has that delicious, subtle tangy funk that egg rolls often have. It's satisfying and crisp, though the outer layer could do with a little more crunch. The sweet pickled carrot and daikon is a punchy contrasting flavor.

Pho Cow Cali is remarkable not just for speed and relative quality, but its consistency, too. If I go in on a mission, I'll be out in 15 minutes every time like clockwork. Who says you can't eat well on your lunch break?

Score: 7 out of 10

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