Put It In Your Mouth: Pho Hung

There’s nothing like a nice warm bowl of pho to warm you up this winter. When the post-holiday, worn down, back to school sickness hits this year, Vietnamese food may be a sure fire way to boost your immune system right back to where it was before you spent the entire break getting wasted and walking around in the cold.

A pretty good place to get your fix is Pho Hung (4717 S.E. Powell Blvd.). The simple, bright environment of this usually crowded restaurant leaves much to be desired in the aesthetics department, but for the price (a meal for four with appetizers is often under $30), you probably won’t be disappointed. Plus, its "bouge" factor is at negative one million compared to Pho Van in the Pearl.

The staff runs around busily seating customers, bussing empty tables and taking orders, but they offer a minimal standard of service at this restaurant. Don’t expect anyone to return to your table after you order, and to pay your bill you have to walk to the front counter and tell them your table number. It’s simple, quick and easy. Unless of course you have no idea what’s going on and it takes you a while to figure out that you are responsible to go up to the counter to cash out.

The first time I ate there I was seated at a table with my girlfriend, and I asked the waiter for a standard bowl of pho. "You know, with the raw meat." He responded, "For you, number 17 is good."

For me? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Do I look weak? Could I not handle the pho that he would order for himself? I’d like to think that I could. I also noticed that 17 was located under the "beginners" section. This was enough to send me into a tempest of fury at the time, but it was not enough to discourage me from coming back again and again because, as I discovered when my bowl arrived, the pho at Pho Hung is pretty darn good.

For those of you who have never tried pho before, I’ll try to give you a brief description of what this unique dish entails. For starters, you have a broth made from a beef or chicken stock. Along with the soup, you are served fresh sprigs of basil, raw bean sprouts and peppers. These ingredients can be used to add flavor to the broth along with the various chili and plum sauces also provided on the table. Placed in the soup are rice noodles and raw slices of flank steak that actually cooks in the broth in front of you, adding heartiness to the meal. With all of this interaction between the spices and the eater, you can then tweak your own broth to be as sweet or hot as you desire. It’s fun and quite delicious, too.

Along with a variety of rice plates and vermicelli bowls, there are also a number of appetizers on the menu. I often order the salad rolls, which come with whatever meat you choose, although they are a bit on the bland side. The egg rolls are fried and served with shrimp, chicken and vegetables, or so the menu says. If you ask me, they taste a little fishy and the meat is debatably what it claims to be. It looked more like whatever was left over in the kitchen – ambiguous at best.

Overall, I would recommend Pho Hung for those who are looking for a good bowl of pho for a decent price. Hell, I put it in my mouth all the time and I’m not sick or anything.