PHO, NOT FAUX
Facing overwhelming menu, it pays to ask for recommendations
9700 Deer Lake Court, Ste. 5A
• Brothers Matthew and David Medure of the upscale Matthew's and Restaurant Medure, as well as two casual M Shack burger joints, now have an M Shack food truck at 2103 San Marco Blvd., in the former Take Away Gourmet spot. It's open daily 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch.
• 4 Rivers is opening a second area restaurant in Orange Park, at 220 Park St. near I-295. The original Jacksonville location is on Baymeadows near I-95.
In a former McAlister's Deli in bustling Tinseltown sits a spacious pho-friendly Vietnamese restaurant. The menu may be a bit overwhelming, so ask for recommendations if you're feeling adventurous — or stick to a standard broth-based pho soup that's loaded with noodles.
We bypassed the standard starters — edamame, dumplings and spring rolls — and went big. The thin pancake special (also known as banh uot dat biet) with minced shrimp, charbroiled pork and Vietnamese ham ($9.25) called our names. Our waitress warned us it wouldn't be like an "American pancake," and it certainly wasn't. The dish arrived unassembled, reminiscent of lettuce wraps — an interesting assortment of squishy, translucent "pancakes," pickled julienned vegetables, bean sprouts, scallions, shredded lettuce and the aforementioned meats, all accompanied by a thin, tangy fish dipping sauce. It was a fun start to the meal, and good for sharing.
With such a large menu, it can be difficult to narrow your choices. At nearby Bowl of Pho (my personal gold standard for local pho), I love the wonton egg noodle soup with pork, so I ordered the same ($8) at Pho Today. When my colorful oversized bowl arrived, there were noticeably more pork pieces in it than at Bowl of Pho, but after a few generous slurps, it was apparent the broth was lacking — more salt, perhaps? Otherwise, it had plenty of thin noodles, baby bok choy and plump pork-filled wontons.
From the house specialties, we selected Vietnamese shaking beef ($12.95), served with a mound of rice, slices of cucumber and tomatoes, and a cup of soup. The pieces of tender beef were cut into small pieces and cooked in a sauce rich in flavor, then shaken in a wok with cooked onions and garlic. Order this.
By the time our waitress informed us that they'd run out of their two Asian desserts — a three- and five-flavored bean dessert — we were already full. I'd usually go for an iced taro boba drink, but I was really bursting at the seams.
Open daily for lunch and Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, Pho Today is conveniently located in the center of busy Southside, offering plenty of seating and friendly service.