Saturday, October 30, 2010

SDPB Special Boston Edition: Just don't drive there

Location: 7 Beach St (between Washington St & Knapp St), Boston, MA
Hours: 10:30am - 10pm daily
Phone: (617) 422-0501
Website: Their Yelp page


I think this place may be run by a non-Vietnamese family. Why? It opens late (pho is traditionally a breakfast food, or so Katie tells me), and they have decent service. Also, it's in the middle of chinatown.

Garnishes were standard, if lacking in the culantro (not too surprising, as it is rare) and jalapeƱos (?!). Still, since neither of those things are essential for MY pho experience, I wasn't too bothered.

The meat was on the bad side of mediocre, as you can tell from the image. Interestingly enough, the tripe was quite good with a tender texture. The same could not be said of the tendon, which came in large chewy chunks (rather than soft melty slices).

The broth started off overly sweet, but I quickly adapted and began to enjoy it. The noodles did not come in a clump, as is usual, but were otherwise standard fare.

Overall, not a bad bowl of pho, but I can't give it a nice rating given that it cost $7 (not including Boston parking). I'm not sure if that's the standard rate in Boston, or if it's unique to this one place. (and I'm too lazy to google it.)

I give Xinh Xinh 6 spoons, but I don't have the spoon pictures, so they're all imaginary. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Get on your Fancy Shoes: Pho Fifth Avenue

Location: 3807 5th Ave (between Robinson Ave & University Ave)
Hours: Mon-Thu, Sun 10 am - 10 pm, Fri-Sat 10 am - 11 pm
not listed

Hello Pho Lovers! It's been a while, we know. We still love you. Katie and I just spent the summer preoccupied by other things. But now we're back and ready to roll!

I spent the summer in Peru, a place where I don't think you can get any pho (maybe in Lima? I never checked). Certainly not in the town where I was staying, which I affectionately refer to as "the Fargo of Peru." So when I returned, food was pretty much the first thing on my mind- specifically sushi and pho.

My first pho experience post-South America was a rather mediocre experience at Convoy Noodle House (something we may re-visit later... trust me, it was that mediocre). Not too long after this, however, our friend and occasional contributor Adam took me out to Pho on Fifth, a new joint that opened up in Hillcrest after I left.

It's a nice little place, right around other cute shops and restaurants in Hillcrest. The shop is clean and nicely decorated-it has a much more "standard slightly upscale Asian place" feel than most of the other pho places we go to.

The staff was very friendly and prompt, and a standard bowl of pho will run you about $8. No sauce dishes, but at least no one made fun of me for using a spoon to hold my sauce.

The first visit I got something pretty standard, some rare steak and tendon. It was not super impressive- the broth was a good balance of spice and beefiness, the vegetable selection was good (no culantro, though), but I found the meat kind of unremarkable and the steak kind of overcooked.

The second time we went was much better. We got some spring rolls, which I think were the best non-homemade spring rolls I've ever had. Good meat, and lots of mint, which I love. The peanut sauce was PERFECT- just the right balance of peanut and hoisin. As you all may have noticed, I find most restaurants' peanut sauce to be too hoisin-y.

I went all out and ordered their Filet Mignon Pho, which they call their signature dish. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made IN MY LIFE. Everything else was as before, good broth, good veggies. But the meat was amazing. It was still red in the middle when the soup came out, and was very tender and flavorful. It was a little pricey at $10, but well worth it.

Overall, because the first visit was only OK, I have Pho Fifth Avenue 8 out of 10 spoons.

I swear to god we will post more often...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

SDPB Special Chapel Hill Edition: Lime, Basil and LOTS O' SALT

Location: 200 West Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC
Not listed on Yelp
(919) 967-5055
Website: Their Yelp page


Every now and then, I venture across the country to see my dear significant other, where he goes to grad school at a certain basketball-crazy university.

And since we both love Pho, we've made trips to Lime and Basil, the only pho place in Chapel Hill.

And usually, the pho we had there was just fine. Not my favorite, but definitely not bad.

But this last time- the time I went ready to write a review on it...

It pretty much sucked ass.

Now, keep in mind that the other times I've eaten there it's been fine. Not great. Fine. But since they served me bad pho- inexcusably bad pho- on that fateful day in late March (I'm behind, I know...) I have no choice but to tear them a new one.

Lime and Basil has a lot of good qualities. It has a nice location right on the main drag by UNC, and the restaurant itself is nicely decorated, clean, and well-lighted. The wait staff has always been polite to me.

However, this is where the mediocrity begins. No sauce dishes, and they bring you one spoon with your soup. So where the hell do you put your sauce? They will bring you a sauce dish upon request, but this implies to me that people in Chapel Hill don't know how to eat pho properly. And that makes me sad.

The menu also leaves something to be desired. They confusingly use different names for the meat than any other pho place I've been to (eyeround instead of straight-up steak?) They also only list like 6 possible combos. I'm sure you could order something different if you could figure out what meats are what.

The vegetables were quite fresh- no culantro, but hey- not that many places seem to have that.

Let me again make the disclaimer that this place was at least slightly above mediocre the last 3 times I ate there before this.


Seriously, there is one overarching theme here. THE PHO WAS SO SALTY I COULD NOT EAT IT.

The meat was a little bleh, but only a little. The noodles were perfect.

But seriously, I could not eat it because the broth was like ocean water with a little beef bullion flavor. And I like salt in general (a little too much, according to my blood pressure), so don't take this lightly, folks. My S.O., who is known for his hearty appetite and his general willingness to eat almost anything, also barely made a dent in his bowl before he frowned and asked for the check.

So, the moral of the story:

Since Lime and Basil is the only game in town (unless you make the drive to Durham), go ahead and try it. Don't be a non-confrontational wuss like me- if the soup is bad, send it back. But seriously, there is no excuse to serve soup like that at all.

2 spoons, and place in the Hall of Laaame. May god have mercy on their souls.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

SDPB Special Portland Edition! Pho Oregon

Hao recently made a trip up to Portland, to give a talk at a scientific conference. First, however, he dined on pho. Hey, it's just a few blocks from the MAX station on 82nd!

Location: 2518 NE 82nd Ave, Portland, Oregon
Phone: (503) 262-8816

Location: 6236 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR 97213
Phone: (503) 281-2990

The famous Russian author, Tolstoy, once wrote (new translation by Hao): "All good bowls of pho resemble one another, each crappy bowl of pho is crappy in its own way." To this, a translator footnote reads: "except for clumpy noodles, as it seems like every other pho restaurant is trying to create a gordian knot of densely packed rice noodles."

With an excellent broth, fresh and flavorful garnishes, and mostly good meat, Pho Oregon failed miserably in noodle clumpage, some of the worst I have ever seen, or attempted to separate. The sate sauce was another source of disappointment, having a pungent bean sauce odor rather than the fragrant aromas of roasted chili. Alas, the nail in the coffin was the price, a full $7 for a regular size bowl! Even given the lack of sales tax in Oregon, this only puts it a meager 6 cents cheaper than OB Noodle House.

At first taste, the broth seems almost bland. However, upon further inspection, one realizes that it is instead a masterful balance of flavors, sweet, salty, spicy, and umami. (God forbid your pho tastes sour!) The rare steak, still pink in areas not touching the broth, has just the right texture, as does the brisket, and 2/3 of the tendon. It's only 2/3, because Pho Oregon does not give you slices of tendon, but rather chunks, some of which turn out to be rather chewy and hard. The tripe is nothing great, but rarely is anyway. Garnish-wise, all the standard are present, with no surprises except for the strong flavor of the basil, a good sign of freshness.

The spring rolls, with fresh mint inside them, were also very good, although I did not care for the mucus-like consistency of the sauce. They did have all the standard fillings, including lettuce, vermicelli rice noodle, shrimp, and pork (I think). About standard at $4.25 for two large rolls sliced in half. (I saved one for a midnight snack while working on my slides.)

In conclusion, I feel much the same way about this place as OB Noodle House, it's a good place to go to while in the area, but there are plenty of other pho restaurants worth a try as well. Katie, for instance, swears by Pho Hung, which others have reported to be quite greasy. Still, I feel that for those who will be appreciated of the well-constructed broth at Pho Oregon, perhaps $7 is not TOO ridiculous to pass up. Would you rather have 3 bowls of really good pho or 4 bowls of bad pho?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Meditations on OB Noodle House

Location: 2218 Cable Street, Ocean Beach
Phone: (619)-450-6868
Hours: Mon-Thu: 11 AM-10 PM, Fri and Sat: 11 AM- 11 PM, Sun: 11 AM- 10 PM

A Pho Review in Haiku, by Beth

A quick lunch Friday
Down in OB with Adam
Hot soup on Cable

Two, seated quickly
At the most crowded pho place
I have ever seen

Ordered steak and flank
For Adam, seafood-filled soup
Separated condiments?

The soup arrived fast
Despite the number of folks
Classy ceramic spoons

Firm, tasty noodles
Meat was tender and decent
Broth fair, not the best

No sauce dishes around
$6.49 small, for reals?
But decent service

Bottom line is:
Worth checking out if you're here
Not much pho around

6 spoons for the place
Sorry for shitty haikus
More to come later.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's Pho Time Again... Again.

We headed back to Pho Time this weekend and we are sad to say that we have to bump them down to 8 spoons and move them to #2 behind Pho Cow Cali Express. The reason?
Super soft Noodles all in one clump. Good thing Hao missed this one, otherwise he would have been very sad and whiney. Beth had noticed the soft noodle problem during her previous follow up to Pho Time but we had hoped it was a fluke, but now that we have experienced soft noodles two times in row...

But, Pho Time is still a great choice, much better then Sao Bien if you're in the PB area (unless perhaps you're vegetarian, see below). Their beef, especially the crunchy flank, is still super delicious, probably tastier than Cow Cali and their broth is good. Sadly, their lack of consistency and noodles so soft they break into little pieces hold them back.

Note from vegetarian friend, Jess, that the broccoli and carrots in the vegetarian pho is weird. She prefers the vegetarian pho at Pho Sao Bien.

Monday, February 8, 2010