Cafe Reviewed: Friday, September 29, 2004
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Grilled pork, baked egg cake, and shredded pork skin, left, and steak and meatball pho, right, with egg rolls.(photo by Scott Latham)
Pho Little Saigon
Steamed bun $1.55
Grilled pork, baked egg cake, shredded pork skin $5.25
BBQ fried rice $5.95
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Pho Sure

This tiny Vietnamese eatery near Ridgmar Mall might not be a destination, but it will provide solid shopping fuel.

By JIMMY FOWLER

Pho Little Saigon

6942 Green Oaks Rd, FW. 817-738-0040. Mon-Thu 10am-9pm, Fri-Sat 10am-9:30pm. Closed Sun. All major credit cards accepted.

Now more than ever, the American shopping mall stands as a monument to our fickle consumer eye. We demand to see a huge variety in product even if many of us stick faithfully with key brands. The typical stateside Vietnamese restaurant, on the other hand, offers a modest menu of staples that accurately reflects the rather conservative culinary choices of the average eater in the former Indochina — the inevitable beef noodle soup called pho, rice and vermicelli bowls, and that light, un-fishy fish sauce known as nouc mam.

So what happens when the rampant American shopping impulse collides with the spare but subtle Vietnamese palate in Fort Worth? A sort of cross-cultural, you-dropped-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter combo called Pho Little Saigon, located on the northern edge of Ridgmar Mall. If you needed an excuse to skip the overpriced, lethargy-inducing food court items during the intense fall and winter shopping seasons, this small storefront eatery provides it. Who’d have thought the aforementioned “national dish of Vietnam”— the aromatic, herb-intensive pho — would turn out to be such effective fuel for gaudy consumer sprees? It’s satisfying but light on the tummy, healthy compared to most mall cuisine, and, best of all, so cheap you can more easily afford those nose-bleed department store markups.

To those who regularly patronize small Vietnamese eateries, Pho Little Saigon’s decor won’t disappoint: there’s the giganto-screen tv playing South Asian news and music videos, the potted palm trees, and the toddler-sized brass Buddha serenely smiling beside the cash register. The menu is equally predictable, but in a good, comforting way. Café sua da, or iced coffee with sweet condensed milk, was ordered before appetizers and entrées. As always, it suggested the rich, guilty pleasure of drinking cool but melted coffee-flavored ice cream from a glass. Goi cuon (spring rolls) were the sausage-sized sticky rice paper rolls jammed full of vermicelli, cilantro, and bits of pork and shrimp, with a small dipping dish of peanut sauce. Less familiar — and less enjoyable — was the steamed bun (banh bao). It looked like a large baked scone with a whipped-up peak at the top, and the breading had the consistency of the masa dough in tamales. The hard-cooked egg yolk inside was dry, crumbly, and throat-clogging, and it managed to dust-over the shredded pork and mushroom inside and bland up the whole thing. The ubiquitous tabletop cup of red chili paste, when doled on sparingly, provided welcome moisture and fire.

Steaming pho tai, chin nac (pho with steak and brisket) comes in small and large bowls, but typically, even the small one was a more than substantial meal, and the large was almost big enough to soak your head in. And yes, it was good enough to serve as both an intro to pho neophytes and cure for the jones that pho addicts sometimes get. It’s been written that this clear, brownish-gold beef broth — simmered with scallions, mint, and various beef cuts, and with mounds of rice vermicelli rising halfway up the bowl — is preferred for breakfast in Vietnam but eaten as often as three times a day in some provinces. That’s not surprising, since this amazing soup has the quality of tasting new even after you’ve tried it a thousand times. It’s a popular impulse to dump the whole shotgun plate of herbs — sliced green chiles, basil leaves, and cilantro sprigs — into the bowl and squeeze the lime halves over it. But try adding them separately and gradually as you eat the soup. The flavors change and combine and intensify throughout the meal.

Two of the rice plates offered solid if less intricately tasty fare. Grilled pork, baked egg cake, and shredded pork skin (com bi, cha, thit Nuong) was mostly stodgy old white rice, with thin shards of sweet-zesty barbecue pork on top. The baked egg cake was a steaming little palm-sized omelet, while the shredded pork skin was not for the squeamish. It had the look and texture of gray, square-edged noodles, with a room-temperature flavor that was only distantly porcine. The chile-seed-sparked fish sauce enlivened these skin shreds. BBQ fried rice with shrimp and pork (com chien duong chau) was a bit too close to the fried rice at Chinese restaurants you know so well, albeit not nearly as oily and with the benefit of a hint of basil.

I should qualify the experience at Pho Little Saigon. The place displayed consistent quality in service and food, but more seasoned and adventurous admirers of Vietnamese cuisine — people who’ve already discovered their favorite obscure restaurants with more exotic fare around the city — probably won’t make this a destination point. Location is what really recommends Pho Little Saigon. It’s a solid lunch or dinner choice for folks who work nearby and a highly affordable relief outpost for consumers who take their holiday-season tours of duty at Ridgmar Mall.


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