My Secret Emergency Pho Fix

Posted October 7, 2015 by The Argonaut in Columns

ASAP Phorage is a beachside treasure hidden inside a convenience store

By Bethney Bonilla (

ASAP Phorage’s Ashley Clem serves up a restorative bowl of Mary’s Chicken Pho  and the invigorating vegetarian bahn mi Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

ASAP Phorage’s Ashley Clem serves up a restorative bowl of Mary’s Chicken Pho
and the invigorating vegetarian bahn mi
Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Perhaps it was my “hangry” alter ego talking or the road-rage I had developed over my last four years in L.A., but I drove into the parking lot ready for battle. If you have ever been to Gordon’s Market you know that fitting into one of the few (if any) parking spots available is a vehicular game of Tetris. But this was my lucky day.

I was in need of a Vietnamese food fix, and behind the aisle of assorted snacks, just past the cleaning supplies, I knew I could find it.

Yes, ASAP Phorage is tucked away in the back of Gordon’s Market, a convenience store that’s a true hidden gem of Playa del Rey. Aside from hiding within it a contemporary West Coast twist on Vietnamese cuisine, Gordon’s is also known by locals as the alkaline water shop. I’ll get into that later — I had to eat!

As I walked in, the sight of liquor and beer bottles aligned across the shelves brought back memories of last night’s drinks and this morning’s headache. I was tempted by each Snickers bar and bag of Chex Mix, but I wasn’t going to sell myself short. I passed the checkout counter, smiled at the woman behind it, and then there it was. The smell of spices and pickled veggies quickly filled my senses. I was in fennel and onion heaven.

For a restaurant, the setting is pretty iconoclastic. Three walls of the store are covered with beer advertisements and the back wall is occupied by Pinterest-inspired decorations, bringing out the vibe of a hip L.A. cafe. Mason jar lights hang from the ceiling and milk crates filled with plants cover the counter tops. But that smell…

I placed my order for a bowl of Mary’s Chicken Pho ($9) and the Vegetarian Bahn Mi ($10). I could have said I was taking the baguette sandwich home for my roommate, but why lie? The cheerful woman taking my order would soon see me scarf down both meals at the restaurant’s lone picnic table, avoiding the icy stares of the beer bottles in the fridge beside me.

I briefly considered ordering my food to go. A nice picnic on the beach is a true luxury of this casual, beachy spot. It would make a cool Instagram photo. #LAlife. But, who am I kidding? Sundays are my hermit days, when I try to avoid as much human interaction as possible. That’s why I chose to stay safely inside the liquor store cave where these Vietnamese treasures lie.

It was only a few minutes before my order was up (service is timely here, but the ASAP actually stands for Asian Sandwiches and Pho), and I was sure to grab all the fixings: hoison sauce, Siracha, jalapeno peppers and some lime wedges to temper the heat.

The warm, perfectly salted broth of the Mary’s Chicken Pho slowly slipped me into a world of euphoria. The colors around me seemed brighter, as though I was seeing a film in color for the first time. Perhaps I am being overdramatic, but it truly made my day.

After about ten gulps of my pho, I opened up my “roommate’s” sandwich. The bread had a delicious crunch that was only outdone by the fresh, flavorful veggies inside that were seasoned and pickled to perfection. At that point there was a voice in my head urging me to continue my life asking to be paid only in Asian sandwiches and soup. Oh, life would be good.

There I was, peacefully falling into an alternate universe, when I heard a familiar question. It was something I had wondered time and time again walking into the market but had never taken time to investigate: “What’s the deal with the alkaline water?” a customer asked the woman at the checkout counter behind me.

I peeked my head over the candy aisle to have a look at the owner’s response and put my lip reading skills to the test.

“It’s purified water,” she said, then something about “adding ionic minerals and adjusting the water’s PH level.” Apparently Gordon’s is the only place in the area that filters it naturally. Hm, sounds fancy.

Sitting back down, I realized I had hit my limit — or had I just ran out of food? There I was, with an empty bowl and ripped-up sandwich wrapper laid out before me. Bouncing back to reality, I realized there were a few things I needed to buy before I left. Coffee filters, paper towels, a lotto ticket if I wanted. The possibilities are plenty in this one-stop shop.

My solo #HermitDay adventure had come to an end. Walking out, the bright sun hit my eyes, and I found that my car was now trapped in the tightest parking space known to man.

Perhaps the journey to find the best bahn mi on this side of town, hidden at the back of a “convenience” store, doesn’t seem so convenient after all. But boy is it worth it!

ASAP Phorage, 303 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey, (310) 823-0183

Bethney Bonilla is recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University.


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