Granted, I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that you will like pho if you try it.
There are scores of Vietnamese pho parlors around the city, and I suggest you just walk into whichever one is closest and order a bowl of “pho tai.” This will come with rosy slices of rare beef and none of that tendon and tripe that can put some people off.
Did I say tendon and tripe? OK, please forget about that for now.
Instead, think about these happy words: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander and star anise. These are the warming, smile-making spices that infuse each pot of limpid beef stock. Imagine a big bowl of this soup, steaming hot, and plumbed with noodles and slivered onions.
Are you hungry yet?
OK, more: That rare beef will come on top, and I suggest you immediately snatch it from the soup and place it on a side dish to keep it from overcooking. You can swish it through the broth later.
Take a sip of the broth and appreciate the beefy richness. I know you will like it.
Now, you will have a side plate of bean sprouts, lime wedges, jalapeno slices, basil leaves and a spiky leaf that looks like a weed, tastes like cilantro and goes by the name of “sawtooth.” You may put any or all of this into your soup and give it a good swirl. You can also goose your soup with a squirt of spicy sriracha sauce or one of sweet hoisin sauce. It’s all there for you.
As I said, you can get pretty good pho pretty much anywhere. I like a place called Dai Loi #2 that sits toward the southern end of Buford Highway. The soup is standard rather than exceptional. But the scene here is a total trip.
The restaurant first opened in 2001 as Vietnam House — a much fancier operation that totally duded up this corner space with chandeliers, fish tanks and weirdly soft pink light that made everyone look sallow. It did not last.
Dai Loi, a branch of a successful Forest Park restaurant moved in, thumbed its nose at the fancy trappings and began dishing out pho fast and furiously to an always packed house. One table may hold three generations of an extended Vietnamese family, from crying babies to near-mute grannies. Another unites stylish young women in high stilleto boots.
You won’t believe how quickly your food comes. You have barely placed your order before a waiter comes hurtling through the room with a steaming bowl of pho in his hands. Talk about immediate gratification.
You can get servicable cha gio imperial rolls to start, but I’d personally get my face into the pho without delay. All I really want with it is a ca phe su dua — a little press pot of Vietnamese coffee that brews over a mug holding a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. Once it finishes brewing, you stir the coffee into the milk and then pour the whole business over ice. Dessert!
By the way, Dai Loi also serves many other entrees, such as rice noodle bowls and beef stew. I’ve never looked past the pho menu.
Look for a visit to Nam Restaurant on Sunday, where a somewhat gussied up pho appears on the menu at lunch.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear if there’s a place in the metro area that serves exceptional pho. It seems to me that some places are a little better than others, but not enough to merit a huge search. Am I wrong?