Radio Milwaukee tackles Phobruary (spoiler: It’s more than soup)
Pho-bruary is back, and you still have one more week to enjoy hot deliciousness in a bowl. The VIA Community Development Corporation’s 10th annual celebration puts the Vietnamese cuisine front and center, along with small businesses in the area.
What does this mean for you? It means you can indulge in pho on a budget while supporting the Silver City/Layton Park neighborhood and three restaurants supplying the pho: Thai Bar-B-Que, Vientiane Noodle Shop and AsianRican Foods & Lounge.
Never ones to shy away from a culinary theme month, a few of us from Radio Milwaukee checked out these spots during a recent lunch break. We wanted to cover all three establishments, but Thai Bar-B-Que is closed Tuesdays. Still, we’d be remiss not to mention that their special offers a $7 regular Beef Pho Bowl from 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (dine-in only). You can find our thoughts on the other two places below.
Vientiane Noodle Shop
This was my first time trying pho (my pho-rst time?), and I made many rookie mistakes that probably delighted the veterans around me. Also a delight: the pho itself. I went with the chicken, and after putting aside the fact that initially it looks like someone dumped broth onto the last few scraps of a salad, I discovered a bounty of deliciousness.
The various floating greenery made for a well-balanced mouthful after mixing it with the ingredients below (even the cilantro, which I usually despise). The meat was perfectly tender, the chili oil I added gave it a nice heat, and I left pleasantly full. Pho-r stars.
—Brett Krzykowski, web editor
I grew up in Wausau, one of a handful of communities to sponsor Hmong family refugees from the fallout of the Vietnam War. Hmong was the largest ethnic minority in my hometown, exposing me to their beautiful culture and food at a young age. So while this wasn’t my first time having pho, it was my first since relocating to Milwaukee.
Walking into the Vientiane Noodle Shop, I was already convinced of the food quality due to the sheer volume of lunchtime diners sprawled out in the delightfully compact space adorned with faded family photos. A busy restaurant with family photos on the wall always fills me with joy. The food isn’t just about the customers eating it, the kitchen staff prepping it; it’s about keeping in touch with family tradition and sharing that love with the community.
I ordered the mainstay “Regular Pho,” which consisted of shredded beef and meatballs pillowed over a waterbed of light broth and chewy noodles, then topped with fresh scallions and cilantro. Putting it simply, everything was phenomenal (perhaps pho-nomenal! No? Okay, I will see myself out). The meat was the texture I wanted it to be, acting like a sponge to the deliciously salty broth, and the noodles never stood a chance at escaping my boastfully good chopstick skills.
My scalp was balmy from chili oil, and I sat lethargically happy for the remainder of my work day. This was no “regular” pho; this was something more dynamic than that. I look forward to returning!
—Mitch DeSantis, underwriting executive
I tried explaining to Brett before embarking on his first pho experience that, in my mind, it isn’t quite a traditional soup, it isn’t really a noodle dish like ramen, and it certainly isn’t a stew. I still feel pretty confident about that after struggling to finish off a big bowl of the stuff at Vientiane.
The modest decor and table setup inside this bustling lunch spot reminded me of cafeteria-style seating. Speaking of the tables, I took note that each one had a tray holding approximately 75 condiments. Among them: multiple chili options, something called “instant beef flavor paste” and what I believed to be dry garlic that a person at the table next to us quickly pointed out was actually fried shallots.
As the others noted, the accouterments (cilantro, scallions, beef) felt fresh and light despite being featured in a massive meal. The thing that surprised me compared to other pho I’ve eaten was the sheer volume of glass noodles lying underneath the surface of the broth and the aforementioned accouterments. Overall, an un-pho-gettable excursion. Would eat again.
—Dan Reiner, digital marketing manager
Vientiane Noodle Shop at 3422 W. National Ave. offers their Regular Beef and Meatballs Pho Bowl for $7 from 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday (dine-in only).
AsianRican Foods & Lounge
Hot take: AsianRican Foods felt cozy, comforting and welcoming, as if you were going over to your family’s for a home-cooked meal. The restaurant offers a tantalizing mix of Puerto Rican and Asian dishes, so it was hard to just stick to pho. But as soon as it arrived, it took center stage (er, table).
With savory, homemade broth, slurpable noodles, tender beef, fresh sprouts and mint, the classic flavor balance was all there. I absolutely loved this pho and felt it was “life-giving” (as the best pho is). This is my go-to comfort food, and the pho at Asianrican Foods is one I hope to have again, soon.
—Erin Wolf, 88Nine music director
It’s an unexpected delight, getting pho from a place that culturally fuses Puerto Rican food with an Asian twist. You don’t think it’s going to work, but somehow it makes sense.
When you go to Asianrican, you’re here for one thing: good food. I decided to go with their chicken pho, even though I was tempted to derail from our lunch assignment. You can tell that the people who work here take pride in providing the comfort we find in their dishes, especially as the chef came to our table to ask our thoughts.
If you’re looking for something to warm your belly and feed your heart, Asianrician has you covered. I’ll save this Milwaukee gem for a day when I need to escape into a bowl of savory broth and a hint of freshness bursting from the mint, and this time I’ll make sure to order a side of mofongo!
—Salam Fatayer, audio storyteller
AsianRican is my spot when I’m in the mood to mix and match two of my favorite foods. I’m literally thinking about Pepper Steak with Arroz Con Gandules at this very moment (thanks Salam).
The restaurant just added pho to the menu this February, and it did not disappoint. I simply got the Beef Pho, and that was it. The dish smelled wonderful and was riddled with flavor. The amount of meat that was in my bowl was quite surprising, but I was not mad at that. It had a great meat-to-noodle-to-broth ratio, so I’ll give it 8.5 out 10.
—Kenny Perez, 88Nine assistant program director
AsianRican Foods & Lounge at 3300 W. Lincoln Ave. offers their Regular Beef Pho Bowl for $7 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday through Sunday (dine-in only).