Right about now everyone in town is loving the final arrival of fall. And if you are like me, that can mean only one thing: time for pho. CenPho pho (see what I did there?) fans traditionally had two choices. Thanks to Pho Noodles, we can add another spot into the mix. A worthy addition, I might add.
Tucked into the strip mall that houses a Safeway (not the hipster one), Pho Noodles sits in a smallish space next to Subway. Given their excellent flavors and all-around charm, I would not be surprised if an expansion is in their future. I have nothing to report with respect to the transformation of the space, because even though this spot is in my neighborhood, I have no recollection of anything else being there. What I can tell you is that it is spotless and well tended. Someone invested hours on designing a brand-new bathroom (pro tip: never eat at a place that skimps on the bathroom. Imagine what their kitchen is like.) and dropped some cash getting fancy embossed wallpaper installed correctly. They also didn’t skimp on the production of a full-color trifold to-go menu. Clearly someone loves details. Which bodes well for the food.
I love their varied options on spring rolls. These you’ll find loaded with lettuce instead of herbs, which makes them seem more homey. Their Grilled Pork Sausage Rolls ($3.25) come with a crunchy strip inside that gives textural interest and is unexpectedly good. Vegetarians and vegans will love their Tofu and Veggie Roll ($2.75), a flavorful choice loaded with long slices of marinated tofu.
I don’t remember the last time I saw vegetarian options like this.
This is why your veggie-loving friends will appreciate an entire section of the menu dedicated to vegetarian dishes. I love their Tofu Range Music a crispy tofu coated in some kind of salty quasi-breading. Crunchy and savory, I love this as an appetizer or a way to convince tofu haters all is not lost. Ap Chao Chay ($9.25) is a quasi-Ramen choice comprised of crispy noodles with tofu and veggies. This broth is so flavorful you will forget that it’s vegetarian. Cubes of tofu somehow keep their crispy texture, and a heady mix of greens including baby bok choy swims with crispy noodles. The serving size, like all their pho, is gargantuan. Expect leftovers.
I’ve never met a banh mi I didn’t like. My favorite here is the BBQ Beef ($4.00). They toast their mini baguettes to peak crispy and then load up with chunks of slightly smoky and sweet beef, carrots, shredded radish and tons of herbs. The only thing missing (which they will bring you) is fresh jalapeño slices. Personally I prefer Sriracha.
And now, the pho. Pho Noodles isn’t playing around here. You’ll find 10 different varieties, most of which skew toward beef (the veggie pho is in the vegetarian section). My two favorites are Pho Tai Nam ($6.95) and Pho Tai Bo Vien ($6.95). The former comes loaded with steak and flank. I was a bit confused by the well-done flank description. However, when I ordered this to go, it made sense. The fillet of steak is raw and gets cooked once dunked in the broth. The flank is already cooked. Both were excellent. The broth was full bodied and flavorful. As you’d expect, a plate of herbs, jalapeños and limes comes alongside to help you flavor it your way. The pho with meatballs and steak had the same steak as the first, but the meatballs were entirely different. I loved them. I dig an unctuous, soft meatball that tastes like they’ve been cooking all day. On one visit a friend thought it was a touch fatty. To me that is a bonus in pho. Not a deal breaker for my friend, but he felt it worth noting.
If you aren’t seeking pho, try the Tam Suon Nuong ($7.25), also known as broken rice, with grilled pork chop. Broken rice is a treat. It is literally broken during production. The resulting rice is much firmer with a less starchy taste. I also think broken rice is much better at soaking up sauces. The pork chop itself is quite tasty and smoky from the grill. The marinade is slightly sweet, like a very mild teriyaki. This dish feels like a bargain for the price.
You’ll enjoy the hospitality, too. Run by a charming couple who are there night and day, Pho Noodles makes you feel welcome and part of the family. Even when I picked up to-go orders, they insisted I sit down and have a glass of water. Initially I wondered about their hours. I mean, pho for breakfast? Until it rained and I couldn’t get there fast enough. Seriously, pho for breakfast while it’s raining is quite possibly the most calming and nurturing thing you can do.
And when it’s this good, affordable and friendly, I plan on doing it a lot.
3417 N. 7th Ave., Phoenix
Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.