Raise your chopsticks for this Vietnamese hot spot
9902 Old Baymeadows Road, Baymeadows
Caron Streibich covers dining out throughout Northeast Florida. If you have information about new restaurant openings, menu changes or other food-related news, contact her here. Streibich is also the host of our regular Folio Weekly Bite Club gatherings. Follow the Bite Club on Facebook or Twitter to learn more about it.
The diversity of ingredients and preparations in ethnic cuisines can transport you around the world with their unique flavors. And the décor can enhance the journey. That’s where Bowl of Pho comes in.
Pho is a staple in Vietnamese diets. Along with rice noodles and beef broth, traditional pho contains varieties of meat including rare beef, beef flank, brisket, tendon (connective tissue that’s cooked for a long time at a slow temperature, becoming pliable and gelatinous like beef fat), tripe (stomach of a domesticated animal) and meatballs. A large, colorful plate of garnishes is served alongside the oversized bowl. Toss in as much as you’d like of raw jalapeño slices, saw-leaf herb (leaf-like, with a flavor similar to cilantro but stronger), fragrant Thai basil, crunchy bean sprouts, chopped green onion and cilantro. Add some hot chili sauce and a squeeze of lime wedge and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves. A bib is recommended but not necessary — for some.
Warning: Bowl of Pho’s menu is expansive. I mix up my order each time I visit. At my rate, I’ll be 87 by the time I’ve worked my way through the menu.
With plenty of appetizers from which to choose, start with the light spring rolls: Shrimp and pork meet vermicelli (thin rice noodles served in many Asian cuisines, from Chinese Cantonese noodles to Filipino pancit), lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber and cilantro. Everything is carefully tucked into pliable rice paper and rolled. It’s proper form to dip these beauties into the side of hoisin-peanut sauce. For pep, add a dash of siracha.
On a recent trip, I diverged from the pho column and ordered from the “egg/rice noodle soup” list. Unlike the beef broth in the pho varieties, these selections offer chicken and pork broth. The barbecue pork with wonton egg noodles (mi hoanh thanh, if you prefer to order in Vietnamese) was a winner: For $7.50, I counted six oversized pork wontons swimming peacefully with tender slices of barbecue pork. After garnishing my soup, I used chopsticks for the noodles and a large flat-bottomed spoon for the broth.
Another favorite is the rice vermicelli, a broth-less option. Your choice of protein is served atop soft, warm, squiggly vermicelli and garnished with bean sprouts, shredded cucumber and lettuce, mint leaves, cilantro and crushed peanuts. These generously sized dishes are served with a fish sauce called nuoc mam — equal parts sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
The requisite boba drink adds a hint of sweetness to the meal’s end. Also called pearl milk tea, boba is known for its signature chewy tapioca balls (or pearls), which sit happily at the bottom of the cup. Slurp them up with an oversized straw, then chew. There are smoothie varieties, which are blended beverages, or iced. Honeydew, avocado and taro are my go-to flavors because they soar beyond the usual American selections of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. A dome-shaped lid allows for a dollop of whipped cream.
Nestled in a shopping center off Baymeadows Road near Southside Boulevard, Bowl of Pho exhibits a spotless modern décor. It used to be closed on Tuesday, but now you can get your noodle fix seven days a week, lunch and dinner. Yum.