Pho Shop Soups Up Dining Choices in Beltsville
By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, August 3, 2006
Pho VN One Restaurant, an authentic Vietnamese noodle shop operated by half of the 12 siblings of the Phan family, joined that mix in January. Thanh Phan, the eldest sister, formerly ran a Vietnamese restaurant in Wheaton that bore her name. The restaurant's extensive menu of Vietnamese specialties was too much for her.
The Beltsville restaurant allows her to specialize in one dish, pho, which is widely regarded as the best-loved dish of Vietnam.
Basically, pho is a bowl of steaming broth and noodles, which can be garnished with an assortment of incredibly thin slices of meat. It is served with bean sprouts, chili peppers and basil, plus various sauces.
The heart of the dish is the noodles. The broth's primary purpose is to flavor the noodles and keep them warm. But if the broth isn't good, the pho can't be good.
At Pho VN One Restaurant, the broth is incredibly good -- fragrant with ginger, anise, cloves and onions and with a depth of flavor that reflects its long simmering with meaty beef bones. The broth is almost clear, with only a cast of brown. It lends its flavor to the homemade noodles, which are just slightly chewy.
The restaurant serves more than a dozen variations of pho, available with slices of brisket, flank (different from flank steak), soft tendon, tripe, skirt steak and eye of round steak. The favorite is No. 11, which combines eye of round and well-done flank.
The chicken version of pho, the broth brimming with the same Asian flavors, is garnished with thin slices of white meat and is every bit as good as the beef versions. There are also meatball and vegetarian versions.
The only other items on the menu are spring rolls, filled with minced shrimp and pork (which are fried), and summer rolls, filled with shrimp, lettuce and rice noodles (which are not fried). Both versions have a handmade quality, and the summer rolls seem to be prepared to order -- the rice paper wrappers are warm and pliable.
Leon Phan, the youngest sibling, said that Tien Phan, the eldest, chose the Beltsville location partly because there were no other Vietnamese restaurants nearby.
The restaurant is sparse and spotlessly clean. Except for the bottles of pepper and hoisin sauces on the tables, there is little indication that it is a Vietnamese restaurant. The walls are terra cotta red, with a country fruit and vegetable border near the ceiling. There are framed prints of flowers and coffee preparations.
Pho is served in two sizes, and you don't have to eat all the broth -- the bowls are large to accommodate plenty of broth to keep the noodles warm.
There are as many beverage choices as there are variations in pho. Try the homemade limeade, which is usually very sweet. I prefer it less sweet, and they gladly prepared it for me. Also try the iced coffee with condensed milk -- instead of dessert.