Pho Noodle House - Where Good Has Gotten Even Better
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
It's been more than four years since I reviewed Pho Noodle House in Tamuning's ITC Building, and when I stepped in the other day as I was leaving their new neighbor, House of Brutus, I promised sibling owners Sang and Huong Kim that I'd be back. I'm glad that I did, and this time, I brought company, so that I could get an experienced second opinion from someone who won't hesitate to "tell it like it is." Fortunately for us, we had recently eaten a home-cooked Vietnamese meal in a friend's Pago Bay house where her Vietnamese girl friends helped her prepare an exceptional Bun Rieu (Crab Noodle Soup) and awesome Fresh Lumpia, so we have some gustatory knowledge on comparing the quality of Vietnamese cooking.
Pho is a small, quaint eatery, with tables close enough to where you could easily share conversations with other diners. It just so happened when we arrived that they were watching DVD's of Vietnamese TV productions, one was a modern opera and the other was a beauty pageant/awards show, filmed in the Southern California, home of a large Vietnamese population. I noticed that the walls had a few more art pieces than before, and there was a greater sense Vietnamese culture..or maybe I was just more in tune this time around. We scanned the menus and made our choices, ordering Pho (Vietnamese Beef Soup $6), Chicken Wings Appetizer ($5), Beef Salad ($6.50), and Chicken Lemongrass ($6), and I had the Iced Coffee Vietnamese Style ($2).
Sang brought out a plate with bean sprouts, two stems of fresh Thai Basil, local lemon wedges, and a small bowl with sliced red and green boonie peppers. This was the add-in ingredient plate for the Pho. By the way, Pho is the national soup of Vietnam, so it's not just any ordinary food...it is steeped in tradition and mixed with great pride...it is something cherished and valued culturally. When Sang delivered the steaming bowl of Pho, I was momentarily mesmerized by the broth's aroma, and knew we were in for a treat.
I quickly picked the basil leaves and tossed them in the soup, along with the bean sprouts. Then I squeezed both local lemon wedges into the soup before putting the wedges in as well. I asked Zee if we should put both the red and green peppers in the soup, too. These were sliced vertically to give more exposure to the seeds. No surprise when she said, "Yes, put them in as well...they'll flavor the broth making it nice and pika!" I portioned out two bowls and then added a splash of hoisin sauce into each. The broth had onions (white and green), shredded beef, sliced meat balls, tender oxtails, and rice noodles with a generous sprinkling of black pepper atop. It was heaven...certainly the best Pho I've had at any restaurant.
Sang carefully brewed and prepared my iced coffee in a special ritual in which he used a Vietnamese filter. The coffee he used was the same as last time, the Cafe Du Monde from New Orleans..this is a very, rich, dark roast coffee, and was blended perfectly.
The next dish delivered was the Chicken Lemongrass. It was piled high on a plate that also had two huge scoops of white rice and green salad with sliced cucumbers and shredded carrots. This was a fragrant, onion-laden Chicken Lemongrass, and much more than we could finish in this sitting so we took most of it home.
The cooking was done by Huong in a big wok in the open kitchen that sits in one end of the dining room. She prepared each dish individually, and we could hear the frying sound of the chicken wing appetizer while the other dishes were being served. During my first review, Huong and Sang's other sister, Phuong, was helping in the kitchen, however, this time, I met their other sister, Lin. Phuong was traveling off-island during this night's review.
The Beef Salad was next...I knew I'd had it before, but don't recall getting this much food...it was enough for four people! The marinated beef was piled atop a bed of romaine lettuce with onions, shredded carrots, stewed onions, and cucumbers, and was bathed in a flavorful dressing which featured lemon juice, sugar, and fish sauce. I thought it was good, and so did Zee.
The Chicken Wings Appetizer was delivered last...and it was several large whole wings that were deep-fried a luscious golden brown. These were served piping hot and we asked Sang for a sweet red chili dipping sauce, which he brought. We both were thrilled to get unbreaded wings, and for the money, you couldn't expect more.
Pho Noodle House has a good selection of Vietnamese favorites, including Fried Lumpia (5 pcs $6, 3 pcs $4), Fresh Lumpia ( 2pcs $5), as well as their versions of Beef or Shrimp Kelaguen $10. They serve 12 different noodle soups, 11 different noodle plates (including Vietnamese Special B.B.Q. Pork Cold Noodle - $7), and a variety of meat or fish choices with rice. The prices are great! Pho Noodle House is open Mon-Sat from 10am-9pm, closed on Sundays. They offer special prices on Party Trays and do a pretty good take-out business. For orders and information call 646-3033.
Pho Noodle House has managed to retain customers and get new ones...their prices are quite low and the food portions are bigger than normal. It's these family run outlets that truly do remarkable things with food. I highly recommend Pho Noodle House, home of the best restaurant-grade Pho on island.