Unassumingly located in a strip mall plaza at 35th Avenue and Indian School Road, the Vietnamese kitchen Pho Binh Minh has an air of mystery to it.
There's no website. It's near one of those wild, diagonal Grand Avenue intersections in central Phoenix. (You'll most likely hear the train if you're dining in.) There’s traditional Asian décor, some wine-bottle art that belongs in an Italian grandmother’s den, and even some Christmassy adornments despite it being September. The laminated menu (always a good sign) has painter’s tape over the prices, covering what was originally printed, to keep the menu from having to be updated. Regulars say the place has been around "forever," though in actuality, Pho Binh Minh has been open for 10 years.
We came for the spring rolls, specifically the bi cuon — shredded pork and mint, tightly wrapped in rice paper and served with a subtle fish sauce. For $3 and some change, you get two fat rolls, sliced in half. The ultimate bite is the cut-open, exposed end of the spring roll pushed into the fish sauce, with a dab of the hot chili or Sriracha sauce.
Try also the goi cuon — shrimp, pork, rice noodle, and mint. It's served with a fantastically thick peanut sauce, sprinkled with diced peanuts (and in a small bowl that was definitely scraped clean). The pork in both rolls is the star ingredient.
The noodle soups here are also killer, and most likely the most popular dish based on the diners around us.
A simple order of pho tai arrives with the pink ends of rare steak bobbing above the broth's surface like icebergs. It’s a pretty sight, albeit one that must be disturbed to add your mix-ins. A generous plate of sliced jalapeños, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and herbs is customarily brought to the table along with pho orders.
The pho chin nam gau — pho with well-done steak, flank steak, and soft-fatty brisket — arrives loaded with white and green onions atop and bubbles like a freshly poured soda. We annihilated both pho orders, alternating spoonfuls of broth with chopsticks heavy with rice noodles.
On the "we'll try them next time" food list: bun (vermicelli), hu tieu dac biet (pork noodle soup), and rice and/or egg noodle orders. Pho Binh Minh also serves salads and boba.
To battle post-lunch drowsiness, we ordered a cafe sua da, an iced coffee with condensed milk. It’s served in a diner-style milkshake glass, and the coffee is almost as thick as a milkshake, and strong, too. After a few sips, you may find that the volume of your voice has moved up a level.
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And by the way, the whole thing was $30.
Pho Binh Minh
4141 North 35th Avenue, #11
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
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