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Fragrant Pho at Viet Kitchen

If first impressions mean anything, then I expect to put Viet Kitchen in my regular rotation.

The new downtown Vietnamese restaurant (on 1st Ave. at Adams St.) was a bright and cheerful stop for this curious and hungry reporter on a day when I just couldn't seem to get the chill out of my bones, and a hot, steamy bowl of pho -- that is, rice vermicelli soup with beef -- sounded like the perfect cure.

The soup showed up promptly -- just a couple minutes after I ordered it, along with iced Vietnamese coffee in a plastic cup.

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I could smell the pho before I even saw it, and I was already in love before the first bite. Pho broth contains all sorts of spices (star anise, cinnamon, clove) and this particular ambrosia was a potent, comforting blend. The aroma wafting up from the bowl was simply intoxicating, and its flavor was notably richer than other versions I've had. I got the pho tai bo vien, with thinly sliced beef and big chunks of meatball. Of course, I filled the whole bowl with the additional sprouts and cilantro, basil, jalapeno, and a squeeze of lime.

The broth made my lips tingle a bit (it wasn't spicy-hot, just full of spices), and before long, I'd eaten all the noodles and started drinking it outright. In between, I took sips of the iced coffee, which wasn't bad, but could've used a touch more condensed milk.

On my way out the door, practically the entire staff thanked me for coming in, including the adorable little girl who was hanging out behind the counter. I'll be back sooner rather than later.

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