I can’t go too terribly long without getting some Vietnamese food in my system. This week was one of those weeks. My body conjures up that craving for pho, spring rolls, and shrimp with vermicelli the same way people get cravings for sushi.
Actually I get cravings for sushi, too. But bang for the buck, Vietnamese restaurants load you up for a small amount of money. Once again it was time to call on Mr. Bubble.
Mr. Bubble gives up alcohol for Lent every year and enters a program with weight loss incentives. Basically it’s a contest where you earn money if your office team loses the most weight. Lucky for him, he weighed in yesterday. We can’t have Bubble getting too cocky after dropping a few pounds, though I am proud of him for doing so, so I figured this was a fresh start on replenishing the nutrients he lost from weeks of starvation.
Pho 88 has its share of fans, and I must say all of our incredibly delicious Vietnamese restaurants have their own categories in which they excel. At this place the menu is fairly expansive with a nice waitress who seems to know her way around every page offering informed opinions with impeccable pronunciation. We were here to sample as much variety as our bellies could hold and use old favorites as measuring sticks.
Speaking of old favorites, I don’t enter one of these places without ordering spring rolls ($2.95 for an order of three). I’m not griping too loudly, but they weren’t the best I ever had. The rice paper was a little chewy, like they were made a good bit earlier. But I must add the peanut sauce was some of the finest examples I’ve come across.
I don’t often get pho unless I have a cold, congestion, or feel under the weather. It’s always humongous. I can never finish it. But, man is it ever good. I had to try at least one of their 22 varieties. Our waitress suggested the Bun Bo Hue ($7.50). This is one of the spicier beef soups and it had my name all over it. Bubble ordered the kitchen sink soup called Chin, Nam, Gan Sach ($7), which is well done steak, flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe. Mr. Bubble explains, “I had to get it. You rarely find any good tripe in this town.”
The Bun Bo Hue is probably my favorite Vietnamese soup. Not as spicy as you’d expect, it is tolerable at any level until you add the jalapenos, sprouts and Sriracha. Then it transforms into a whole new game — a game of pain. Bubble took down the tripe soup like a pho champion with no complaints.
One of my measuring sticks is the Bun Tom Thit Nuong ($8.50). This is the shrimp and pork with vermicelli that has been my favorite Vietnamese dish for years. Nothing fancy, I prefer mine with a squirt or two of Sriracha hot sauce, and I am pleased to say Pho 88 has a great version. It was just what the doctor ordered, though I took most of it home.
Bubble must have been in the mood for variety because his main course was another “everything but the kitchen sink.” Hu Tieu Xao Thap Cam ($8.50) was a chow-fun combo loaded with pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, crab meat and fish balls. Yes, you read that correctly. Fish balls.
I must first comment that this appeared to weigh in at three and a half pounds of food. It’s a platter with a crest of noodles and proteins that at first glance I knew not even his mighty jaw and starving appetite could handle. The crab meat is the imitation variety, and yes, I did try a fish ball. Oddly it looked like a water chestnut, and tasted of a tougher fish. I was not crazy about the entrée to say the least, but remember Bubble is fresh off a diet. He’s been given his freedom, and he was going to let freedom ring. He still took a generous amount home for dinner.
Our lovely waitress had recommended what she considers a Pho 88 favorite. Tom Xao Broccoli ($8.50) is outrageously good. It’s really just shrimp and broccoli over rice, but do not let that sound boring. The sauce is amazing, and this is the thing I was searching for. With all of the similarities between ethnic restaurants of this persuasion I would say this is the reason to visit Pho 88. I would go so far as to say this is should be the “coming attraction” of an ad campaign.
So here is the verdict on Pho 88. Honestly there were some things I didn’t care for. You have to execute tender spring rolls for me, because I am an addict. Some of the other things were up to par with similar restaurants.
So let’s discuss what is going to bring me back to that table. The menu is very large and deserves more sampling. The waitress is friendly and knowledgeable. The shrimp and broccoli was well executed, and even the not-so-great stuff was edible.
We walked out of there with a less than $50 tab, each of us carrying pounds of food home for dinner and leaving much more on the table. Did I mention we were stuffed? I couldn’t fit a fortune cookie. That is the classic bang for your buck we see time and again at Vietnamese restaurants.
Despite the few complaints I can still recommend this place with a small hint of “watch your step” and a healthy dose of “try the broccoli.” I will return.
395 Azalea Road
Mobile, AL 36609