3300 Overland Ave.
Palms, CA 90034
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Photos by RICH SCHMITT | Staff Photographer
As you may have figured out, the name of this eatery puns on the word “forage” (which means “to search widely for food or provisions”) via the English spelling of “pho,” a veggies-and-meat-laden noodle soup that is a Vietnamese specialty.
Yet here, at the original Phorage in Palms, a mostly Vietnamese, predominantly porcine affair with both individual and hipster-popular communal seating, you won’t have to “forage” for long deciding on what to eat. The refreshingly succinct menu, envisioned by owner and chef Perry Cheung, almost dictates two or three solid paths to go down.
At Phorage, it’s pig that gets prime time billing, as well as Jidori chicken, a type of poultry raised on an all-vegetarian diet (including clover, tomatoes, apples) before being delivered on the same day of slaughter to maintain freshness. Cheung opts to create a finite number of items and then embark on preparing them very well.
The enterprising Cheung opened his noodle and soup shop in 2013 with his friend Eric Cho and his cousin through marriage, Jesse Duron. By December of that year, he opened a second version in Playa del Rey called Phorage ASAP (an acronym for “Asian Sandwiches and Pho”) and Tiki Fish, Cheung’s new poke outlet, just enjoyed its August opening next door to Phorage, within the same Palms strip mall complex at Overland and Rose.
Originally from Canarsie, Brooklyn, Cheung has a professional back-story nearly as interesting as his cuisine. Cheung attended San Francisco’s prestigious Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy School before beginning his career as sous chef at San Francisco’s renowned Vietnamese eatery Slanted Door.
When Slanted Door’s owner intended to open a second one back East and have Cheung oversee it, Cheung intended to spend just the interim year in Los Angeles. That Slanted Door never happened and Cheung remained in LA, where he opened the short-lived but buzzy R.O.C. on Sawtelle Boulevard in 2012. Today, Cheung lives walking distance from his twin Palms restaurants.
Phorage occupies the same exact storefront where Kogi Truck creator (and LA gourmet food truck craze firestarter) Roy Choi’s Chego previously stood. In a funny twist, Choi finally opened the long-awaited brick-and-mortar version of Kogi in another strip mall on the parallel southeast corner just three blocks down Overland from Phorage. Under Phorage’s Small Bites menu, all priced at $7 (save for Lemongrass Wings at $9), you can choose from Fresh Spring Rolls, Veggie Spring Rolls and the wings. We opted for Imperial Rolls, yummy Szechuan pork-stuffed, handcrafted egg rolls that do not taste greasy and go very well with its accompanying light, clear dipping sauce. We didn’t sample any of the salads here, however one can order from Bok Choy (a Chinese cabbage; $7), Chicken Salad ($8), Papaya Salad ($9) and Vegan Curry ($11). There are also piping hot Claypots to be had: Eggplant with Crispy Tofu ($12) or Jidori Chicken ($13), replete with choice of add-ons that include bok choy, fried egg, tofu, mushrooms and extra noodle at $2 per item.
For $11.50, we delved into a plate of Vermicelli (cold noodle) with Natural Pork, which came with savory naturally cooked pork strips on a bed of light, long and thin pasta. On the higher end, enjoy the Jidori Chicken version for $12.
Mighty, steaming bowls of Pho (noodle soup) are served here, ranging from Washugyu Beef ($11) to Natural Ox Tail ($13). We tried the latter, and while, truth be told, stripping the meat off the bone takes much more work than your less exotic bowls, the savory morsels melting off the marrow—as well as the broth it wallows in—makes this bowl a battle worth fighting for.
Beverages at Phorage are superb. Contasting from restaurant to restaurant, Thai Iced Tea ($3.25) can come in different octaves of sickeningly sweet. What I appreciated about Thai iced tea here was just how subtle it is by comparison; not exceedingly sweet yet flavorful. Nearly stealing its thunder though: Watermelon Green Tea ($4), a pure, fresh-tasting, seasonal drink that we’re guessing won’t live long enough on the menu to see September but should definitely be sampled.
One of the highlights of our forage at Phorage turned out to be a special: Meatball Bánh mì (XuiMai), pork meatballs with water chestnut in a tomato gravy with cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots, jalapeno and mayonnaise on fresh French baguette. Simple yet effective, this made for a satisfying and delectable meal in itself. Bánh mì (Vietnamese term referring to bread and sandwiches) range in the $9-10 area and permanent sandwich items here include Jidori Chicken and Vegetarian options.
Interestingly, Phorage is neither fish nor fowl (nor hog!): it’s too clean, modern and slick to be your dive-y little corner pho spot; it’s also not your full-blown Eastside twist on Vietnamese fare. Chef Cheung has opened a comfortable, intimate (yet community minded) gathering place reflecting his personal vision where the cuisine is surprisingly traditional, the portions are satisfying, the prices reasonable, and the parking is easy. So get down there before Overland Boulevard becomes the next Abbot Kinney.
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