Location: 901 NW 23rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73106
Phone: (405) 521-8087
Cost Factor: $
Taste Factor: ****
Take Note!! Cash or check only!!
Do you pho?
Just mention the word “pho” to someone who’s had it.
Talk about a conversation starter. Pho soup is sweeping the country as the newest (and oldest) trend. It helps that it’s a steaming bowl of good-for-you soup that just feels comforting and fun.
Nothing says fun like chopsticks and soup…just ask me, I can never use them!
Here in Oklahoma City, we have a great Asian district that lies somewhere in the neighborhood of 23rd and Classen Boulevard. Drive into this district and you will begin to see several shops with the word pho at the beginning of them.
Chris and Laura kept telling us we needed to try pho (pronounced fuh). Finally one day, we went with them.
Now we go regularly to this Pho Lien Hoa or just Pho Hoa (their old name) for short. We’ve tried several places, but keep going back to the original.
It’s just that good.
Pho is a Vietnamese soup. It’s simple, it’s earthy and spiced and when you behold pho, you will taste the best broth ever. No kidding.
The broth is what truly makes this steamy bowl of goodness. I’m sure there are varying means of making pho, but traditionally oxtails or other beef bones are simmered for hours with charred onions and ginger (which makes the broth so dark and rich) and many spices including toasted cinnamon, coriander seeds, cloves and cardamom pod. But the main diva is star anise, which gives the broth its distinctive flavor. Just walk into Pho Hoa, and the star anise wafting out of the kitchen will meet you at the door.
A bowl of pho can consist of many ingredients. The traditional soup is served with the previously described broth, thin rice noodles, green and white onions and cilantro. This is the “base” of the soup. To this, you can add a variety of meats including sliced steak and brisket, and even some oddities like tripe, tendon, flank, and meatballs. Don’t let the menu alarm you – you will see “rare” listed under the meats. The meats are so thinly sliced, they will cook quickly when dropped into the waiting steaming broth. If you’re freaked out by rare, then get well done.
For a Pho beginner, try the P16 (or the rare steak). It’s what I get every time. I used the get the combo of steak and brisket, but I found the brisket at Pho Hoa to be on the fatty side and now I just get the steak (the P16).
You will be met at the door by the owner. I don’t know his name, because try as I might, I never can understand him. He usually holds up how many fingers on his hand of the people in your party and when you acknowledge, he directs you to a table. The place is usually abuzz with Vietnamese folk, a great sign that this is an authentic good pho restaurant. My one gripe with Pho Lien Hoa is that sometimes you almost skate to the table. It seems they don’t mop the floors very often, and I never want to put my purse even close to the floor. Everything else appears to be clean, they’ve redecorated in some new sleek black tables and chairs, and soon, you’ll be eating pho.
Start with the P16 (Pho Tai). As you return, you can experiment with the seafood and chicken versions and they also offer some drier vermicelli dishes that come with a small side of broth.
There are 3 sizes of pho at Pho Lien Hoa, small ($5.95), large ($6.50) and extra-large ($7.50). I have no idea why they skipped medium. I always get the small. Mr. Wonderful occasionally orders the large and always leaves half of it. The extra-large is enormous and I always watch little Vietnamese men consume this size with awe.
Because the soup is unusually cheap for a meal, we usually order an appetizer of Fresh Spring Rolls ($1.99/two). These are shrimp, pork, lettuce, basil, mint and vermicelli noodles wrapped up in a rice paper wrapper that’s been moistened. They come with a peanut sauce with a dollop of chili sauce in it that is delicious.
Mr. Wonderful swiped one and dipped it before I could get the picture taken. He was hungry.
We also like to get the Thai Iced Coffee (Cafe Sua Da) when we go. This comes out in a tea cup with a small coffee filter contraption on top of it. Inside the cup is a good portion of sweetened condensed milk. You let the coffee water slowly drip through over the milk until you’re left with very strong coffee in your cup. Then you pour it all over a cup of ice. I love this stuff. Seriously, I love it.
While you wait for your soup, a girl will come by and dump a plate on your table of fresh ingredients to add to your soup. There are slices of lime, fresh jalepeno slices, bean sprouts, thai basil and a funny looking long jagged leaf called Saw Leaf herb (Pak Chee Farang).
Mr. Wonderful won’t touch Saw Leaf with a 10-foot pole, but score!!! I have got him appreciating cilantro now.
Victory at last!
So here is pho etiquette in a nutshell.
Soon, the man who delivers all the soup arrives at your table with your soup.
You tear up some basil, squeeze in a little lime juice, and add in some bean sprouts. I also tear up and add the Saw Leaf as well. If you’re a spicy nut, throw some jalepeno’s in as well, but for me…there is Sriracha Sauce.
Sauces – there are a variety on a lazy susan to pick from. Start with the brown one in the squeeze bottle (hoisin sauce). Add a little heat with some of the red bottle (Sriracha Sauce), and there is a glass vial with a lid -that is fish sauce. I add a few drops of that as well. Fish sauce is basically what the Asian folk use for salt.
There are also small sauces for dipping your meat into. Squirt in a little hoisin and a drop of 2 of srirachi. Using your chopsticks, pull a piece of meat out of your soup and dunk it in the sauce. This is purely optional, but try it – it’s delicious.
Take your chopsticks and stir everything up. Your soup will turn a lovely shade of deep rich brown tinged with a bit of red. If you can’t use chopsticks, ask for a fork. By the way, it’s perfectly okay to “slurp” your noodles at a Pho restaurant. There’s really no avoiding it.
Pho Hoa also has some fun drinks that I see at many tables. I detest any sweet drinks (except for coffee), but Mr. Wonderful and Laura like these. They have everything from Salty Lemonade ($3.00)to Fruit Smoothies ($2.25). Laura gets the Avocado Smoothie and loves it.
They come with a giant straw and in the bottom of the smoothie are large tapioca balls that can be sucked up through the straw. I almost throw-up when I suck a lemon seed up through a straw so the very thought of this makes me shudder, but Mr. Wonderful likes it.
For dessert, try the Sesame Balls (Banh Cam $1.00/five). Mr. Wonderful and Mother-in-Law Wonderful adore these things. They are a deep fried ball filled with a sweet red bean-paste filling. Be warned though, if a lady comes around offering you these or anything else, they aren’t free! They will appear on your bill.
Pho Hoa is a fun adventurous eating time. The service is what you might call “asian diner”. It’s a fast paced, no frills, sometimes-loud place. If you’re looking for close personal attention, this won’t be your place to go. But if you’re in the mood for a little fun and something different, cross cultures and try you a bit of pho.
Next time you have a cold? You’ll crave it.