For some reason, I was driving along W. Kimberly Road in Davenport a few weeks ago and I happened to look over at a small strip mall that housed a few businesses including a space that was a former pizza place, then a Chinese restaurant. In the space that the restaurants had occupied, I noticed that there was now a Vietnamese restaurant in their place. Not long after that, my wife and I decided to head over to California Pho to check things out.
The west side of Davenport hasn't been friendly to restaurants since I moved to the area in 1991. Only a handful of restaurants have made it more than two years in the area west of Division Street. The space that houses California Pho was first a pizza place - Upper Crust Pizza - that was not the typical Quad Cities-style pizza that proliferate the area and are universally liked only by people who grew up in the Quad Cities.
Of course, that place didn't last more than a couple of years before it was turned into a pseudo-Chinese restaurant called CreAsian that basically morphed into a Chinese buffet restaurant in a couple of years. It, too, closed about three years after it opened.
Quang Le is a Vietnamese immigrant who opened an Asian grocery store by the name of Oriental Food Store in Davenport in 1999. Business was so good after awhile that Quang moved to a new and bigger location along River Drive on the west side of downtown Davenport in 2010. On the weekends, the market had a restaurant - Pho 999 - that served authentic Vietnamese foods. As the popularity of Pho 999 grew, Quang decided to find a place where he could be open every day. He found the open spot that used to house the pizza restaurant, then the Chinese restaurant and opened California Pho last summer.
California Pho is located on the far west side of Davenport along W. Kimberly Road, the main east-road through the heart of the city. (see map) There's plenty of parking in the strip mall's parking lot and there wasn't a lot of people in the place that evening. The decor is tasteful and comfortable, and the dining area was well-lit.
We took a seat in a booth along the west wall of the restaurant and were given menus to look through. Curiously, the man who seated us and gave us the menu hovered near the table possibly thinking we were going to order something right away. I noticed that they didn't have any beer on the menu and I asked him if they had a beer list. "No beer," he said. He continued to stand next to our table before my wife said, "Uh, we'll both take some water." "Water, sure," he said with a smile and went away.
"What was up with that," I questioned my wife.
"Boy, beats me," she said. "He must have thought we were ready to order or something."
Sure enough after he brought back two glasses of water, he hovered near our table once again. Finally, my wife said, "Uh, give us a couple of minutes to look over the menu. This is our first visit."
"Sure, sure," he said with a smile and he went away. My wife and I sort of looked at each other with amused smirks on our faces.
We're still far from being experts in Vietnamese food, but it looked like they had the basics on the menu. Of course, they had different styles of pho, vermicelli - or bún in Vietnamese, rice or egg noodle soups, and either steamed rice or fried rice entrees where you can add pork, chicken or seafood to the mix. One thing that I was sort of surprised that they didn't have were banh mi sandwiches. I sort of thought that was a staple in most Vietnamese restaurants, but not at California Pho. They did, however, have spring rolls filled with shrimp, pork, vermicelli noodles, and lettuce all rolled up in rice paper and served with a spicy sweet sauce. The spring rolls were very good and tasted very fresh. It was a nice start to the meal.
My wife ended up ordering the fried rice combination with shrimp and chicken. It was a large helping of the combination fried rice and it was colorfully adorned with red and green pepper slices, raisins, chopped veggies, and topped with cilantro sprigs. She said it was very good, but there was no way that she could eat the whole plate.
Still not willing to venture outside of my comfort zone with Vietnamese food, I got the pho with meatballs. They actually had some interesting pho offerings that included pho with rare beef filet, pho with rare steak slices and well-done brisket, and the phò tái chin gâu gân sách - pho with rare steak, well-done brisket, fatty flank steak, soft tendon and trip. Uh, no - I'm not quite ready to go that far just yet.
But the pho with meatballs was good - the meatballs were sliced into quarters and there was plenty of them mixed in with the noodles and fresh cilantro in the hearty broth. It, too, was a large portion - something that we're finding with the Vietnamese restaurants we've visited. But it was a spot hitter for me that evening.
We're still learning about Vietnamese food, but we're starting to get better opinions as to the things we eat. I was happy enough with my meatball pho at California Pho while my wife enjoyed her combination fried rice with chicken and shrimp. The spring rolls we had as a starter were very good with a crisp and fresh taste to them. We're hoping that California Pho bucks the trend of restaurants on the west side of Davenport going away after a couple three years. We don't mind the drive over to that side of town to eat there. But I'm hoping people closer to the place discover how good of food they have to offer at California Pho.