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Here's your quick guide to pho. For starters, it's pronounced "fuh," and it's one of the signature dishes of Vietnamese cuisine: a noodle soup based in a slow-cooked beef and onion stock that, like much Vietnamese food, is made delicious thanks to fresh herbs and vegetables and piquant sauces. After you've had it a couple of times, chicken noodle soup will never cure a cold or warm you up on a cold day the same.
As you might guess, pho is a specialty at Pho Thanh My, the new Vietnamese restaurant on North Shackleford in a space that recently housed Albasha and New York New York Deli. But it's far from the only dish on the menu. Typical Vietnamese fare like bun (vermicelli bowls), com dia (rice plates) and com tam (broken rice dishes) features along with several options of stir-fried noodles, fried rice and non-pho soups. It's a broad menu, but relatively concise for an Asian restaurant.
In two visits, we managed to sample entrees from nearly every category. The Goi Cuon ($3.50) spring rolls should start every meal at Pho Thanh My (and every Vietnamese restaurant for that matter). These rice-paper rolls, served cold, come packed with rice vermicelli, basil, cilantro, lettuce and either pork and shrimp or tofu depending on which variety you pick. Each order includes two rolls and a thick, slightly sweet peanut sauce.
Another important thing to know about pho: It's almost always served in a massive mixing-bowl-sized bowl. Our Pho Tia Nam Gan ($7.95) seemed to be made up of half a gallon of broth. Like most of Pho Thanh My's 11 pho options, it featured thin, lean eye of round steak; onions; long rice noodles that just about necessitate indelicate eating, and plenty of scallions; plus thinly sliced broth-cooked brisket and gelatinous tendon. With hints of cinnamon and just the right amount of salt, that combination would've been good alone. But to achieve pho perfection, it takes some doctoring. A plate of bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai basil and not enough hot peppers come with every order of pho. Dump just the right amount of that in the soup and squirt in a tablespoon or so of Sriracha and you're on your way.
The tendon was the highlight of the soup, but then again, we're never squeamish over consistency. For those with similarly steely stomachs, there are also tripe options, a seafood assortment ($7.95) — shrimp, squid and crab meat — that one dining companion raved about and, compellingly, one pho ($8.95) that combines "all toppings"
Not surprisingly, Pho Thanh My's pho was its most successful dish. But the rice dish, Com Bi Suon Cha ($7.50), was a close runner-up. It came with a big ball of rice; an orange-flavored char-grilled pork chop; a steamed pork cake that looked and tasted a bit like pork meatloaf, and a small pile of glassy noodles mixed with shreds of pork, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes. Which is a lot of food on one plate.
Our vegetarian friend raved about her Com Chay ($6.95), a bowl of steamed rice and lightly stir-fried assorted carrots, broccoli and cabbage. But another companion found the vermicelli and grilled pork bowl Bun Thit Nuong ($7.50) a touch bland.
The menu includes 13 kinds of bubble tea ($3.50) — including exotic flavors like kumquat, lychee and taro. We loved our mango bubble tea, but with notes of tamarind, cake batter and plum wine, the red plum flavor left us a bit baffled. But perhaps that's the point: "Challenge your palates with our many tropical flavors!" the menu exhorts.
Pho Thanh My has been open only a month and a half, so perhaps it's still working out service kinks. On both visits, we were subjected to long waits. On the first visit, we waited for 20 minutes before anyone even took our order. A month later, our servers were more attentive, but we had to ask after one of our orders of spring rolls and our entrees were slow to reach the table and didn't come together.
That said, we'll hope for improvements and, in the meantime, join the steady crowds that've filled Pho Thanh My since it opened, willing to endure service hiccups for a big, delicious bowl of pho.
Pho Thanh My
302 N. Shackleford Road
Next visit, we're checking out the tasty looking regional-style soups. The Mi Hoanh Thanh looks especially appealing. It's an egg noodle soup with wonton dumplings, sliced pork, shrimp, squid, crab meat and quail egg. Yum.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Credit cards, no alcohol.