Forget the ho, ho, ho. The holidays at my house find me belting out choruses of pho, pho, pho.
That's pho, as in the traditional noodle soup of Vietnam. The stuff is beloved to me, and it's become my winter tradition. What better way to greet the shivery season than face-first in a huge bowl of hot broth, deep in a fog of the beefy steam that billows and curls from a tureen of precious pho?
My favorite pho is the model found at Pho Bang, 17th Avenue and Camelback, and -- even after I've spent years testing Vietnamese shops all across the Valley -- it probably always will be. But I'm willing to give a newcomer a shot: Cyclo has just opened at Dobson Road and Chandler Boulevard in Chandler. Named for the three-wheel bikes used as taxis in Asia, Cyclo isn't the typical Vietnamese dingy hole-in-the-wall setup. The small but spunky cafe storms the senses with bright red and black decor and, instead of the wobbly tables I'm used to balancing with my foot while I slurp soup at other pho houses, this place has cozy booths.
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The bowl I cherish at Pho Bang is called tai gau, a hearty meal of skinny, slippery rice noodles, tender sliced brisket and rare eye of round (the lacy pieces cook in the scalding broth). At the table, I add in splashes of sriracha (a low-burning hot sauce), crispy bean sprouts, serrano chile, squirts of lime, and tears of fresh basil, mint and cilantro.
Cyclo doesn't have the combo, but it's got pho xa lua, adding meatballs to the mix. Happily, fancier digs don't mean fancier prices: Pho Bang rings in at $4.50 for a large bowl; Cyclo keeps it reasonable at $5. There are the traditional favorites at the Chandler place, too -- big plates of yellow curry beef, sautéed lemongrass chicken, shrimp spring rolls, and bun sai gon, a mix of egg roll, grilled beef, pork or shrimp over rice vermicelli.
Plan accordingly. Cyclo is closed New Year's Day. Pho Bang is open all day on New Year's Day.
Bye-bye, Bubba: It's been a rough year for our friends at Chez Bubba's, the popular downtown Phoenix Creole-Caribbean restaurant. Owner Myron Stephenson passed away in November 2001, prompting the closure of the cafe on First Street and Roosevelt. But wife Cheryl kept on, soon opening a new location at Heritage Square, Seventh Street and Monroe. Now, though, the phone number rings to a disconnect tone. I've gotten e-mails lamenting the loss of Bubba's beautiful sweet potato pie. For now, I suggest filling the gap with the delicious dessert served at Soul in the Hole, on Arizona Avenue and Galveston in Chandler.