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Pho Hoa and a Mess of Vietnamese BBQ (sorta)

Img_1948Even with all the rain pouring down this week, I managed to partake in a plethora of banner meals. Several were so good I went back twice within 36 hours. Topping the list of note-worthy dishes are the BBQ ribs I ordered by chance at Pho Hoa, an always-bustling Vietnamese diner in a narrow stripmall in the heart of Uptown. I braved the chaotic parking lot in front so I could hit up a nearby Vietnamese grocery store. They hawk the prime ingredients (fresh mint and tiny sugar rocks) in my current addiction, delicious Moroccan gunbarrel tea, and I love scouring its aisles for exotic ingredients.

After I strolled out of the grocery store, I figured I'd best get some lunch, and Pho Hoa's convenient proximity landed me inside. Once, a few years ago, my intrepid dining pal Lisa and I had a funky batch of pho and vowed never to touch the stuff again. But with the rain and all, I couldn't seem to get it out of my mind: the slurping noodles, heady broth, crisp bean sprouts, fresh lime and butter-soft chunks of meat all floating languidly, just waiting to be divvied up on a giant ceramic spoon and attacked.

Though every person at every table sat devouring a giant bowl of pho, a photo on the menu sang a little louder to my hungry, iron-deficient tummy. It was those sassy BBQ ribs served over a pile of rice. Clean, simple and cheap—all the elements I look for in a quickie lunch.

Every other in-the-know diner was sucking down various smoothies, but I knew that would fill me up in no time, so I stared with an order of no-pork-please goi cuon, soft spring rolls stuffed with pink shrimp, bean sprouts and bone-white vermicelli noodles. Dunked in a perfect hoisin sauce, these little, refreshing salad packets are just light enough to satiate the stomach before a full-on gobble of some sweet ribs.

Moments after finishing my rolls, a flustered waiter wandered over and dropped my lunch off. As I was about to flip a ramekin of fish sauce all over the entire dish, a wee Asian woman came running toward me yelping, "Scuse me, scuse me!" She promptly snatched up my plate of food, almost placed it on a neighboring diner's lap, and then proceeded to stare at it for a brief second before declaring it was indeed my dish and depositing it back in front of me. Oopsey! As she laughed away her mistake, utter pandemonium broke out on my side of the dining room. Now everyone worried they might have the wrong dish (though mine did turn out to be the correct one) but in the end, all was well in eating land.

As my neighbors happily tucked into their slippery bowls of soup and giggled at the confusion that dear old nana had caused, I silently picked my meat off the bone and created a pile of pleasure. Every tiny bite housed a secret explosion of flavor for my weary mouth, and I just sat back and inhaled the wild scent sprouting up from the tables surrounding me. Bliss equals bliss no matter what you have to do to get there, and there is no better place to experience authentic food euphoria than the crazy bright dining room of Pho Hoa.

The Final Rave: When I returned to the packed restaurant less than two days later, I ordered the identical meal and was not disappointed. Some say consistency is everything, and I have to admit, I agree.

Keep it Going:

Eat It: Hai Yen (Uptown)
I've been reading some tall tales about this popular Argyle Street hideaway, which I refuse to write about. I just adore their sugarcane shrimp rolls and am going to keep it at that!

Drink It: BeBoBa Bubble Tea House
Everyone loves bubbles, especially in their tea. This little teahouse gets rave reviews from bubble experts across the board.

Read It: Street Food
This spectacular tomb sports a front cover showcasing a dolled up goi cuon, and the recipes inside are easier than you can imagine.

Get Crazy With It: Los Angeles, CA
All this rain is almost as bad as snow. Score a cheap ticket to sunny LA and cruise on down to Chinatown, where a small gem called Pho 87 is pumping out pho, shrimp fried rice and goi cuon like you've never tasted.

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