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PHO-ghedaboudit

99 reasons to slurp and the soup is one

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A little birdie told me Pho 99 Vietnamese Grill on Blanding Boulevard is THE place for pho, so I gave it a go. On a rare freezing Jax night (let’s hope those are over), we made the trip. This unassuming restaurant next to Silver Star Chinese is low-key and spacious, with a nice medley of selections in a glossy book with breakout sections.

We were ravenous, of course. To start, we ordered two Shrimp Summer Rolls ($3.99) and a pot of tea ($2/endless refills). The Vietnamese rice paper rolls are filled with fresh ingredients and wrapped with traditional sticky rice paper. It’s kind of like eating a handheld salad—much more exciting than an actual salad, imho. I’m not sure I prefer the gumminess of rice paper to the fried crispiness of egg rolls, but the freshness factor can’t be ignored.

The menu photos were partly responsible for my next choice: Golden Nest ($10.99), a lovely, slightly wild-looking nest of noodles. The fried egg noodle birds’ nest is filled with rich sauce and veggies. We chose tofu and it was delightful; the sauce added oomph to the taste. It coats the crispy noodles well, nearly softening them back to the original noodle-ness. The photo was apt; Golden Nest was a heavenly texture fusion.

Pho is available in three sizes: small ($6.50), large ($8.50) and extra-large ($10.50). Go big or go home; even the small is a usual-sized bowl of soup! The price is fixed, so go crazy when picking proteins. You may choose three from among eye round steak, brisket, beef meatball, tendon, flank and beef tripe. If you’re not sure which part of the cow you’re eating, make it a learning experience! We stuck with the basics, opting for eye round steak, flank and tripe (chewy with very little taste). I’m not sure I’d call it THE place for pho in Jax but it was certainly good. The bowl included all the stuff you expect: hot broth, rice noodles, a plate filled with fresh accompaniments and the protein piled on top.

Pho 99 has tasty options for that sweet tooth. Three Flavored Bean ($3.99) caught my eye, so we chose that. With no menu photo, it really was a surprise. Turns out, it’s like a Filipino halo halo: layers of crushed ice, sweetened beans, sweetened condensed milk and sliced jellies on top—a riot of textures! It took a few bites, but it was appealing enough to keep me intrigued, and it satisfied my need for sweetness. Get it in the summer because it’s nicely refreshing.

We spent some time lingering over our meal. No rush to finish; in fact, they often refilled our teapot just so we could keep chatting. Next time? I’ll try the hot pot, pad Thai or other specialties, and relax over dinner.

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