Tucked into a little strip mall on Sepulveda Boulevard, 5iPho is as unassuming and unpretentious a storefront as a restaurant could have. But word of mouth is a powerful thing. Blink, and you could easily miss the restaurant as you drive or even walk by, and yet it’s impressively busy on a Monday at noon, right at the start of lunch.
There’s also a sign-in sheet as you enter, suggesting that waiting for a seat is commonplace, and that’s a good sign. The staff is warm and friendly despite the crowd of people that they’re dealing with, and you feel looked after immediately upon sitting down when a glass of water and a menu is placed in front of you.
The dishes are served in full or half orders, allowing for a smaller lunchtime portion and perhaps the indulgence of an appetizer. We did just that, opting for the har gow, a shrimp dumpling dim sum that comes in a portion of four pieces, and with a sweet and salty dipping sauce.
The dumplings are sticky in that nice, starchy, steamed sort of a way, and all four are filled-to-bursting with a juicy piece of shrimp. The dip brings the whole thing to life, though beware: handling them with chopsticks can be insanely slippery business.
For the main meal, we went for a half order of walnut shrimp (just to continue with the shrimp theme). Even without the appetizer, a half order of this dish is enough because, as delicious as it is, it’s also very rich. The shrimp is lightly battered and served with beautifully toasted walnuts in a sweet white sauce that has a thick mayonnaise-like quality to it that might put some people off, but it shouldn’t.
The combination of those three elements somehow works wonderfully, especially when paired with a side of steamed rice. We went for the brown rice, because we correctly guessed that the nutty nature of the dish would work nicely with the earthier grain.
The shrimp is so lightly-breaded that the breading is barely visible, yet offers that satisfying crunch when biting in. It also means that the flavor or grease isn’t overpowering the delicate shrimp, a theme that continues with the nuts and sauce. Nothing is too bold and attention-seeking; rather, the blend creates something tantalizing.
Overall, the food is great at 5iPho, and the service and atmosphere makes for a welcoming environment to enjoy it in. The prices are reasonable, so there’s really nothing to complain about.