Pho Factory in Alexandria
By Nevin Martell
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Pho is pronounced “fuh.” Not “foe.”
It’s an easy mistake to make, but if you get it right you’ll immediately earn a little respect at Alexandria’s Pho Factory. Tucked away in the far corner of a multi-culti strip mall, this unassuming restaurant specializes in the aromatic Vietnamese noodle soup. They take it so seriously that their phone number spells “U EAT PHO.”
Co-owner, general manager and part-time chef Andy Phan, 50, of Fairfax, emigrated from Vietnam more three decades ago. But he never forgot his homeland’s favorite food. For seven years, he owned Pho Nucuoi Saigon in Woodbridge (now operated by Phan’s cousin under the name Pho Saigon).
A year ago, the enterprising businessman opened Pho Factory with his girlfriend, Cindy Nguyen, 47, and his brother, Tam Ton, 43, both of Fairfax.
Their pho has generations-old roots in Phan’s family recipes. Eight varieties make appearances, featuring various cuts of steak ($8.50), chicken ($8.50), tofu with vegetables ($8.95) and seafood such as calamari and shrimp ($10.50). More adventurous diners can get offal such as tendon and tripe ($3.25 each) on the side. Each order comes with a plate of bean sprouts crested with sprigs of basil, a couple of lime wedges and slivers of jalapeno nestled on the side.
The steaming soup’s aroma hints at a melange of exotic spices regularly used in pho -- perhaps clove, star anise and cinnamon? When I ask Phan about the particulars, he just laughs. “That’s top secret,” he says. “Only family can know that.”
He will cop to the inclusion of ginger and onions, which help give the clear broth a deeply warming property. Slurp-worthy tangled braids of thin rice noodles hide in the bottom of every bowl.
Pho to go is packed with the broth in one container and the noodles, protein and toppings packaged in another. If you want hoisin or Sriracha sauce, ask for some on the side.
Though pho represents nearly 85 percent of the sales here, according to Phan, the menu has plenty of other options. Summer rolls swaddled in rice paper wrap noodles, shredded lettuce and bean sprouts, but also several shrimp that weren’t noted in the menu description. (Diners with shellfish allergies, beware.) Dab these into the peanut sauce topped with sambal sauce and crushed peanuts to kick up the otherwise muted appetizer. Take a pass on the sticky-sweet stir-fried wings ($6.95). Entree options include rice dishes ($8.95 to $12.95), pan-fried noodles ($10.95 to 14.95), bowls of string-thin vermicelli ($8.95 to $11.95) and a number of tofu-centric vegetarian alternatives ($8.95 to $10.95).
To accompany my lunch, I ordered a passion fruit boba smoothie ($4.50), a sort of blended iced bubble tea with black pearls of tapioca lurking in its depths. The tropical slushy, which comes in 10 flavors, was too dessertlike for my taste. Get an eye-opening iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk ($4) or a glass of squeezed-to-order orange juice ($4) instead.