I wouldn’t know a good pho if it fell out of the sky and landed on my face.
My inexperience with “authentic” ethnic food is probably my biggest weakness as a food writer. Or at least, my biggest insecurity. I don’t trust my own opinion, because I don’t think I’ve had enough to really know what the hell I’m talking about.
But I know what I like.
So, even if I can’t speak on the authenticity of a bowl of pho, I can still tell you if it is something that I would pay to put in my mouth again. And I know that I will return to Pho Dai Loi #2 many times.
For those unfamiliar with Pho, it’s a Vietnamese noodle soup. A more detailed and (theoretically) accurate description is here.
Tucked away in the back of a small shopping center on the ITP stretch of Buford Highway, conveniently only a few minutes from my girlfriend’s fiancé’s apartment, this unassuming Vietnamese restaurant churns out some seriously satisfying grub.
The first thing that I noticed, and always a good sign when looking for any ethnic food, was that I was the only white guy in a full house, and one of a small number of tables speaking English. If the folks that grew up on their momma’s Vietnamese comfort food eat here, they must be doing something right. (Granted, not every Asian person in the restaurant was actually Vietnamese, but you get my point. Hopefully in the least racist way possible).
With over 30 variations to choose from, the pho selection could intimidate an amateur like myself. I knew that I wanted a rich, beefy broth. And I don’t like doing food half-assed.
So, I ordered the pho with every piece of cow possible. The Pho Dac Biet.
This is noodle soup with rare eye round steak, well-done flank steak, marble brisket, soft tendon, and bible-tripe. But before I get into the various meats and their respective merits, we need to talk broth.
Broth can be anemic or revelatory. It can carry a dish, or the dish can simply float in it. Done right, you can feel a good broth in the small of your spine and the tips of your fingers.
And this broth was damn good.
Beefy awesomeness infused with cinnamon, ginger, star anise, cilantro, and clove. The next time I have a cold or I’m bundled up beside a fireplace, I want an oil drum of this broth by my side. I was impressed with the depth of flavor, and even if the rest of the pho had been forgettable, I would come back just for the broth.
The clear winner in terms of the meats was the thinly sliced eye round steak. Next go-round, I expect that I will get the Pho Tai (just the round steak). Both the brisket and the flank steak were also excellent, but I keep fantasizing about a bowl of nothing but that amazing broth and a pile of the deliciously tender rare eye round.
Being no stranger to tripe, I enjoyed it, but bible-tripe isn’t really my favorite. The texture is more off-putting than some of the alternatives. The tendon wasn’t as gelatinous as I would have wanted, but it was not unpleasant either. I think the novelty of getting both of these in my pho wore off about ¾ of the way through the bowl.
The serving sizes run from “kinda big” to “baby pool”, so bring your appetite. Despite ordering the “medium” sized bowl, I couldn’t find room to finish all of the noodles and assorted beef cuts, and left more of a wounded soldier than I usually care to.
But you can bet your sweet ass that I drank all of the broth.
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