This fast-casual Vietnamese eatery is the real deal
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., June 7, 2013
PhoNatic2525 W. Anderson, 512/458-8889
When I first heard about this new fast-casual Vietnamese concept, I was skeptical, thinking the menu would be sanitized for mass consumption rather than remain "authentic." But my preconceptions quickly disappeared upon my first visit to PhoNatic. Everything we have tasted so far at this locally owned mini-chain-in-the-making has been fresh, flavorful, beautifully presented, served incredibly fast and piping hot by friendly and efficient staff.
We are already addicted to the PhoNatic "Bánh Mì" Sliders (3 for $5.95), a spin on the classic sandwich made by stuffing grilled pork, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, fresh jalapeños, and cilantro in fluffy and warm steamed Peking buns. Another winner is the BBQ Pork Roll ($1.90 each or 2 for $3.50), a study in textural contrast filled with a moist slice of sausage-like pork cake, cucumber, lettuce, pickled carrots and daikon, and a crispy eggroll skin. It's all wrapped in rice paper and accompanied by an excellent peanut sauce where hoisin mingles with fish sauce and chopped roasted peanuts to provide the perfect sweet-salty punch.
As expected, the menu features a variety of aromatic noodle soups: pho, mi, and hu tieu, in two sizes, served with fresh trimmings. Here's where you can clearly tell that everything is made to order: The noodles are cooked to the perfect texture, not mushy or gluey like they've been sitting around for a few minutes (or hours). I especially like the Mì Hoành Thánh Thap Cam ($7.25/$7.95): egg noodles with pork/shrimp wontons, chicken, shrimp, red and green onions, and cilantro in chicken broth. But I think my favorites are the grilled marinated meat plates, served over your choice of rice or vermicelli, garnished with fresh and pickled veggies with nuoc mam on the side. (These are available in vegetarian and carb-less variations.) And yes, they have a kids' menu with options that are likely to please even picky eaters. There's a small selection of beer and predictable wines, but the homemade fresh limeade and superlative Café Sua Da make up for it. Plus, I was thrilled to see that the soda fountain is comprised mostly of Maine Root selections.
Pat and Sara Lee, the husband-and-wife team behind PhoNatic, have come up with a winning combination of excellent food, served fast, in a clean, but not necessarily sterile, atmosphere. I personally cannot wait until they open their second location at Southpark Meadows in early summer.