First Bite

For pho fans, a new place to go bowling

Pho DC's refreshing lotus stalk salad is an appetizer whose shrimp and pork give it the heft of an entree.
Pho DC's refreshing lotus stalk salad is an appetizer whose shrimp and pork give it the heft of an entree. (James M. Thresher)
  Enlarge Photo    
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is pho poised to supplant burgers, pizza and cupcakes as the next "it" dish in the city?

If so, that's fine by this diner, who relishes the cheap thrill of a bowl of steaming broth, slippery noodles and shaved beef. Not so long ago, a craving for the Vietnamese soup involved a trek to Virginia, maybe Maryland. With the debuts last year of Pho 14, Pho Viet and Ba Bay - and now of Pho DC in Chinatown - residents can leave less of a carbon footprint in their pursuit.

The latest purveyor, owned in part by the principal of the nearby Asian Spice and Kanlaya Thai Cuisine, is a looker. Pho DC opens with a narrow bar made cozy with brick walls and overhead rafters. If you're a solo diner, here's where you're likely to be steered by the host. Multiples tend to be led to one of two dining rooms. The first is dressed with wavy panels that change hue every few moments. The second, and larger, room is backed by a frosted window that resembles a moon.

Settle in with a flaky curry puff (hold the cloying lemon sauce) if you want to warm up, or the lotus stalk salad for something more refreshing. Sliced shrimp, sheets of pork and a bright vinaigrette nudge the appetizer into entree territory.

The main attraction comes in eight styles, including a meatless pho made with vegetable broth. I like the variety in No. 1, teeming with brisket, meatballs, pink slices of rare beef and tripe that involves some crunch in the eating, and the heat in No. 8. The latter packs in folds of pork and beef along with the traditional thread-fine vermicelli. The broths are no match for the pure, crystal-clear stocks at the very good Pho Viet in Upper Columbia Heights, and the accompanying Thai basil and bean sprouts sometimes look a little faded. But the soups at Pho DC still satisfy.

Sweetly seasoned grilled pork, bedded on noodles and sprinkled with crushed peanuts, is a fine path to follow if you don't want to slurp soup.

Nice gesture: Refills on sodas and even juices are free. Bad form: Leftovers are packed up by servers at the table, rather than behind the scenes. Ever tried pouring a big bowl of soup into a tiny plastic tub in a crowded dining room? Not so easy.

608 H St. NW. 202-506-2888. Entrees, $10.95 to $14.95.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company