First Taste

Pho House Is Your New Favorite, Er, Pho House

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions. share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Pho House Location: 3275 East McDowell Road Open: Two months. Eats: Vietnamese Price Point: Around $8 per person

Let's get one thing out of the way -- Pho House is a strictly no-frills strip mall eatery in Phoenix offering authentic Vietnamese food at crazy-cheap prices. It is, for those in-the-know, more Pho Thanh than Rice Paper. And for fans of this cuisine who don't mind it served up sans stylish interior and paying less than $7 an entree, this two-month-old restaurant may be a new favorite.

Pho House's small menu contains traditional Vietnamese dishes such as goi cuon, soft vermicelli summer rolls and a banh mi (the French-inspired baguette sandwich) along with several varieties of com tam (steamed rice served with grilled pork marinated in sugar and fish sauce), pho (noodle soup), and vermicelli noodle dishes called bun along with fruity desserts and (non-alcoholic) blended drinks.

Let's take a bite, shall we?

To start, two rice paper rolls ($2.25) filled with shrimp, pork, cucumber, and mint and accompanied by a tasty peanut sauce were decidedly respectable, but better yet, paved the way for one of the best banh mi sandwiches I've had in the Valley. Featuring two perfectly prepared pieces of slightly sweet marinated grilled pork along with fresh cucumber slices, cilantro, pickled carrots, and jalapeños nestled in a delightfully light and crunchy bun, this sandwich was satisfaction in every bite -- and one I could barely believe I paid just $2.95 for.

Pho House's marinated grilled pork goodness can also be found in a few of its traditional bun dishes. My bun thit nong cha gio ($5.50) included large chunks of it along with shrimp, a fried egg roll, peanuts, julienned carrots, scallions, and mint atop vermicelli noodles served at room temperature. Lively, with a fresh veggie crunch, and made sweeter with an accompanying sauce, I'd order it again, but without the shrimp.

And for those who like their Vietnamese noodle soup, pho, less beefy than some versions, than Pho House's creation, aromatic and with a hint of sweetness, should do nicely. My selection, pho dac biet, made with sliced beef, tendon, meatballs, and tripe ($5.95) was deeply flavorful with an accompanying plate of add-as-you-please greens, including fresh basil, heightening the taste experience. And, although it came up skimpy in two of its stated ingredients -- tendon and meatball -- I would order it again with pleasure.

The interior of Pho House is bigger than what you might expect given that it's a strip mall storefront. Bathed in light blue paint, its those-in-the-know clientele speak quietly, watch the restaurant's single television tuned to sports or news, or sip on very good blended drinks like the off-menu banana and strawberry ($2.50) and the green tea tapioca ($2.95), or bubble tea, complete with wide straw to slurp up the small chewy balls made of tapioca starch.

I'm looking forward to my next pop-in at Pho House. And I'm quite sure no matter what I order, a banh mi will always be part of the meal.

What do you think, pho fans? Have you been to Pho House in Phoenix yet? What did you think?

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