Pho for the first time, at Super Pho
We had been wanting to visit Super Pho for a long time. A friend at work is an (international) foodie and he raves about Pho (pronounced Fuh), so one evening we decided to give it a try.
We drove all the way up Lancaster from Kuebler at dinner time on a Thursday and noticed every restaurant along the way only had one or two tables of customers. Even the parking lots for Applebees and Olive Garden were empty. Super Pho's dining room was about half full, which was a good sign. We like busy restaurants.
I should take a moment and properly introduce ourselves. We're a small family of foodies who love to try new and different foods. Besides our opinionated teenager, Pam does creative work, Frank is a Chef, and we both have our own blogs. I promise you too, that we will keep our restaurant reviews fair and impartial and in order to keep personal bias out of our reviews we will never review Frank's current place of employment or any places where he has had a negative employment experience. On the other hand, our reviews will be influenced by his prospective as a chef.
Most of the time, we have three criteria when we visit a restaurant: It has to be inexpensive, the food has to be fresh not processed/pre-made, and of course it has to taste good. Oh, maybe we can add a fourth criteria: the restaurant has to be clean. Having a Chef in the family means we've all seen our share of filthy kitchens (which will remain unnamed) - filth which usually extends into the dining room.
So back to dinner: You know how when you eat at a really great restaurant, the experience stays with you and you crave the opportunity to return for more? That was our experience with Super Pho. We can't wait to go back.
We walked into Super Pho and were invited to choose any table we liked. The teenager chose a booth by the window where we had a lovely view of traffic along Lancaster. (Tip - don't sit near the window when it's really cold outside.) We were immediately greeted with menus and water. The beverage section featured the usual drinks and some curious options we had never heard of. On a whim we ordered an avocado shake.
Mmmmm... avocado milkshake, originally uploaded by Adventures of Pam & Frank.
Delicious. We fought over the glass. I asked our waiter what was in it and he explained it was just avocado, evaporated milk, ice, and a few other ingredients. I'm usually not a big fan of the taste of evaporated milk, but it added to the nuttiness of the shake.
When our waiter arrived with the shake, I told him it was our first visit there and he offered to guide us through the menu. He explained that there are three sections to the menu: soups, noodles, and rice. Each section is like a pizza menu, where we could order plain, one topping, two toppings, or the works. He made it very easy for us newbies to understand.
We ordered a variety of appetizers, partly so we could taste several different items on the menu, and partly because the low price led us to think they would be small portions. Not so. The salad rolls (below) were as big as a baby's arm.
See how big these salad rolls are? They came with peanut dipping sauce. For $3.95 a pair it would make a fine lunch. The blur in the picture (above) is Frank stealing the other salad roll off my plate.
The teenager is dipping her egg roll into nuoc man sauce, which is a sweet and sour fish sauce. Don't let the name 'fish sauce' scare you; it's a form of "Umami" which translates to "savoriness" or "deliciousness."
Our entrees arrived before we could devour the appetizers. The Chef ordered Pho, which is the traditional Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup. The teenager and I both ordered the rice vermicelli noodle bowls. All three of us got "the works" so we could try everything. Wow, mother always said to never eat anything bigger than your head. For $8.95, I thought we would get a moderate amount of food.
We each got what looked like a mixing bowl, filled to the brim with soup or noodles.
The portions were huge.
Frank's soup arrived full of round steak, flank, fatty brisket, shredded tripe, tendon, and meatballs. On the side he received a plate of sliced jalapenos, fresh basil, lime slices, and bean sprouts to add to his soup.
The soup broth was perfect, with a fragrant beef flavor, just enough heat and sour from the peppers and limes, and a touch of star anise that we still taste whenever we think about that soup. There was plenty of meat and noodles in the soup and Frank said it was the best he had ever eaten.
We all tasted each others' entrees. While I wasn't a big fan of the texture of shredded tripe (my first experience with tripe) the tendon was interesting. It had the texture of gummy bears, only creamier, and tasted like beef. Frank absolutely loved the tendon and wanted more.
The teenager and I had huge bowls filled with rice vermicelli noodles and salad, and topped with two kinds of grilled pork, grilled shrimp and chicken, plus a crispy egg roll, and garnished with peanuts. We dug in and savored the melt-in-your-mouth pork, commented on the perfectly cooked grilled chicken and shrimp, slurped up the noodles soaked in nuoc man sauce, and loved the the cilantro/cucumber salad.
We ate as much as we could and took the leftovers home. Remember how I mentioned that we expected small portions because of the low price? Totally wrong assumption. We got a lot of extremely tasty food for less than we spend at the typical family dining chain restaurants, and it was all made fresh in the kitchen, not shipped in from a food factory. And while we were stuffed, we were comfortable-full, not bloated-full. Another good feeling.
One other tip: Noodles slide off the plastic chopsticks. Ask for wooden ones or a fork if you have trouble getting the food all the way up to your mouth.
I know that trying a new food can be a little scary. You're hungry and want to eat something that tastes good, but you're not sure if you'll like some strange new food or not so you stick with an old standard. I'd say that for being new to Pho, the only new flavor was the beef broth, which we now dream about. Everything else was just an absolutely delicious combination of familiar flavors. The textures of the tripe and fatty brisket were also new, but Frank ordered his soup with them because he wanted to try them. I think next time we go I'd order the soup with round steak.
We noticed the fish tank on our way out. Many Asian restaurants have a fish tank for feng shui reasons. Several local Asian restaurants have sad looking grey fish in a dirty aquarium. Super Pho's fish were bright and active, happily swimming around an immaculate tank. We all smiled at the school of fish and left the restaurant on a high note.
As I type this I can still imagine the taste and smell of our meal and I want more.
We'll be back - Maybe tonight for dinner?