Review: Pho Huong

April 30, 2010

Address: 394 Pacific Avenue, Toronto

Alana and Rich both ordered: Large veggie pho, spring rolls, and beers.

Plus: Great vegetarian pho,  lots of condiments, opens at 10 am.

Minus: Weird atmosphere.

Rating: 8 hot-sauce ninja turtles out of 10

Rich sez: Alana and I love veggie pho so much that we decided to implement PHO FRIDAYS! Every other Friday we will adventure out to a new location, if we can, and have pho. This week: Pho Huong in the Junction.

This is not the first time we have gone here for veggie pho, but we thought we should share its greatness with the interwebs. Being a Phriday, we decided to have some beer and an order of spring rolls with our meal. Sadly, we frequent Pho Houng so often that we have memorized the menu number for our favourite dish: P12 – L. Which is the large tofu and veggie pho bowl, in vegetable broth.

Bring on the spring rolls. CAUTION – these spring rolls are scorching hot to the touch when they first arrive at your table. They are also a little greaser than I would like, but are perfect  for a hangover lunch/dinner. Wait, why was I hung over on a Friday? A single order is two spring rolls, cut into 2 pieces each. I always try and take the bigger halves when Alana is playing chop sticks with her chop sticks? What? Did I just write that?

The  pho arrives. The large size is perphect. I like mine a lil’ more spicer than the norm, but sometimes, sometimes, I get a little carried away with the cock sauce. However, I have figured out a simple soulution. I just draw a ninja turtle in my bowl (I like Raphel) with the sriracha and, with a swirl of soya and a few dashes of hoisin, I am good to go. The veggies are fresh and the broccoli pieces are huge. I tend to finsh my bowl before Alana and start to give her the hungry seagull eye. Once I start squawking, she usally hands over the rest of her bowl before we get kicked out.

The Phatmosphere – it gets moderately busy in this restaurant. Any hour of any day, you will not be eating alone.  If you go on a weekend you will find that there are several children running amuck within the restaurant — often, it seems as if they are running a side-business as a day care. If you need to use the restroom, it’s down the stairs, past the Christmas tree, through the small hallway … yes, a Christmas tree still stands at the bottom of the stairs. I am OK with celebrating Christmas 365 days a year, but this tree has no lights,and it’s tied to the banister.

Overall, I love Pho Huong and all of its quirks. It never disappoints.

Alana sez: Pho Huong is one of our go-to neighborhood restaurants. Their veggie pho is like a warm hug for your insides — it will cure anything from a hangover to the plain old blues. I especially love that they open at 10 am on the weekends. It’s never too early for a delicious bowl of noodle soup.

As I’ve mentioned before, good vegetarian bowls of pho are few and far between. At many Vietnamese restaurants, the vegetarian soups are bland, uninspired afterthoughts. Not so at Pho Huong. The already-flavourful broth is kicked up with the provided sriracha, soy sauce, hoisin, and lime juice. Within this wonderful base, a  generous portion of tender (but not mushy) rice noodles swims among barely-cooked broccoli florets, carrot rounds, tender onion slices, and puffy fried tofu. It’s comfort food at its best.

As Rich mentioned, the atmosphere can be a little weird. There’s a flat screen TV showing CP24, 24 hours a day (natch), and something that sounds like the soundtrack from Gone with the Wind is always on the speakers. There are children dancing everywhere, and the service can be impersonal. Regardless, Pho Huong is probably our favourite place to grab a bite in the Junction, and I hope it never changes.

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veggie pho

Address: 780 East Road to Six Flags, Arlington, TX

Website

Rich and Alana both ordered: California springrolls, grilled shrimp springrolls, and veggie pho.

Plus: Ridiculously fresh food. Delicious broth. Creative, huge springrolls. Inexpensive.

Minus: We found a mushroom in our soup!

Rating: 10 happy bellies out of 10

Alana sez: The morning after flying to Texas for the Dallas Cowboys’ home opener, Rich and I were eager to tour the NFL’s newest stadium and take in a Rangers game. But first: breakfast.

Arlington is not a very pedestrian-friendly city so we asked Curtis, our hotel shuttle driver and apparently Vernon Wells’s BFF, to drop us off somewhere in the vicinity of Tasty Town. We soon found ourselves in Lincoln Square, surrounded by T.G.I.Friday’s, Chili’s, and Hooters. “Thanks,” Curtis.

Eventually we stumbled upon a tiny Vietnamese spot that seemed out of place among the surrounding chain giants. Since this was one of those rare occasions where soup for breakfast seemed like a good idea, we headed into Sprout’s.

We were surprised by the mod decor we found inside, which was very pretty and much more welcoming than the generic ’80s banquet hall vibe that most Vietnamese restaurants go with. At the direction of our friendly server, we grabbed a booth and settled in to look over the menu. Before we had even finished reading the appetizers, we found two tall glasses of Diet Coke with plenty of crushed ice placed in front of us. We were off to a good start.

Sprout’s offers up a wide variety of creative fresh springrolls, with everything from crispy chicken to grilled tilapia stuffed into rice paper wrappers with lettuce, fresh herbs, and vermicelli noodles. We eventually decided to try the California (avocado and imitation crab) and the grilled shrimp versions. For our mains, we were all about the vegetable pho (noodle soup).

While we waited for our apps and enjoyed some fun retro tunes, our server brought out some Diet Coke refills before we even noticed we were empty — it’s the little things like this that take a restaurant experience over the top. Before long, our springrolls were placed on the table and Rich and I came to understand what “Texas-sized” really means. These things were huge — each springroll was at least twice the size of the largest ones I’ve been served in Canada! Dipping our overstuffed rolls into the provided sauces and condiments, we found them to be fresh, toothsome, and extremely tasty. The grilled shrimp roll in particular had an amazing char-grilled flavour that was complimented nicely by the pineapple dipping sauce. Just as we finished our rolls and felt like we couldn’t take another bite, our soup arrived.

I’m usually disappointed by vegetarian pho — without the usual chicken or beef broth, the animal-friendly versions tend to be bland, bland, bland. As such, I didn’t have high expectations for Sprout’s offering. This skepticism was shattered as soon as my pho was placed in front of me — steaming hot, and accompanied by crisp, fresh sprouts, Thai basil leaves, fresh lime wedges, and bright greeen jalapeno slices, this looked like one kickass bowl of soup. My first taste of Sprout’s broth did not disappoint. It’s rich vegetable flavour was enhanced by the sweet basil and the subtle spiciness of the jalapeno slices. A squeeze of lime juice took it over the top. Normally, I add hoisin and sriracha to my (typically flavourless) veggie pho broth. Not this time — this was a soup base that could stand on its own. Swimming in this amazing broth, I found the freshest possible vegetables, big slabs of flash-fried tofu, and perfectly cooked vermicelli. And a single mushroom, which I placed on my side dish with disgust. Mushrooms are Satan’s food.

In Toronto, most vegetarians I know point to the Golden Turtle as the place to find the best veggie pho in the city. I’ve tried Golden Turtle’s pho, and it pales in comparison to Sprout’s. I highly recommend that any vegetarian Vietnamese food fans who find themselves in Dallas/Forth Worth take a special trip to Arlington to try out Sprout’s. It was easily the restaurant highlight of our trip.

Rich sez: Who knew SOUP for BREAKFAST would be so good. Also on that same day, I watched an episode of King of the Hill, which is based in Arlington, in Arlington. What a great day.

RICH TIP OF THE DAY: After putting jalapenos in your pho, remember not to rub your eyes.