Restaurant Review: Food Review
If it's good enough for Vietnamese grannies, it's probably really good
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., April 29, 2011
Pho Danh11220 N. Lamar Ste. B-11, 837-7800
Sunday-Thursday, 8:30am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 8:30am-9:30pm
Every time I'd pass Pho Danh on my way to visit Mom at Buckner Villa nursing home, the parking lot would be packed regardless of the time or day. Pho (pronounced "fuh") and bun (pronounced "boon") are basically Vietnamese street-food dishes, and the rules that apply to locating a good street-food vendor anywhere in the world (look for the crowds of locals) apply to locating a good pho joint. Another good indicator of an excellent pho restaurant is the presence of older Vietnamese ladies dining there. They are very critical diners when it comes to traditional fare, and they don't eat where the food isn't real; Pho Danh has them in spades. Located for the last four years on the southwest corner of Braker and Lamar, Pho Danh is gleamingly clean. The decor is modern and stark, with comfortable chairs in a dining room that seats about 100. Typical of any pho restaurant, the food comes out of the kitchen quickly, and the service is efficient and friendly. Don't wait for a ticket – you simply get up and pay at the counter when you're ready to leave; they magically know your table number.
We started with egg rolls ($2.70) and charbroiled pork spring rolls ($2.90), and both were wonderful. The egg rolls have that necessary crispy, caramelized exterior that comes from a dip in syrup, and the ground-pork filling is rich and flavorful. The spring rolls are huge, and the vegetables are crisp, with the taste of the grilled pork dominant and the nuoc leo sauce rich and excellent. We heard through the grapevine about a No. 31 that's not on the menu; it's actually No. 27 (small, $5.80; large, $6.80) – shrimp, pork slices, and chicken with flat egg noodles, with the broth served on the side. The noodles are cooked in stock instead of water and loaded with flavor, and the dish comes topped with fried shallots and scallions. It's highly recommended, and unless you're really starving, small is plenty big.
We also sampled No. 29, rice and egg noodle seafood soup ($6/$7). It's served in a rich pork stock and comes with tender squid balls and shrimp balls, a sea leg section, and a few pieces of fresh squid. It's garnished with paper-thin slices of onion and cilantro – a nice taste combination and another winner. We got a side order of meat balls ($3.25/$3.95) and were delighted. They arrive swimming in a rich cinnamon-kissed pork stock, and the "balls" are actually cut portions of a typical Vietnamese pork meat loaf-style pâté. The flavor is very authentic and shows off the spicing talents of the kitchen.
We split an order of bun with shredded pork skin, charbroiled pork, and egg rolls ($7.50), and were very pleased with our bowl. The vermicelli noodles were properly cooked: not overdone, gummy, stuck together, or too al dente. There was a nice layer of par-boiled shredded pork skin, which adds both flavor and texture, topped with cilantro, mint, and scallions. The pork is very nice, consisting of tender, grilled slices of marinated loin unlike the tough chunks you see at other pho spots. The shrimp are moist and juicy, and the bottom of the bowl is laden with shredded romaine lettuce and crunchy slivers of cucumber. The nuoc cham sauce is robust and complex, not the least bit watery, loaded with julienned carrots, and perfectly balances sweet with the acidity of lime juice. All of the sauces at Pho Danh are prepared with care and taste authentic. The stocks, which are the mainstay of a pho restaurant, are all rich and flavorful, and the herb plates offer crisp sprouts, sizzling jalapeño slices, and impeccably fresh herbs. All in all, Pho Danh turned out to be one of the top pho restaurants in town.