Pho–a popular Vietnamese dish
Casual, inexpensive, tasty and classic are the words that best describe one of the most overlooked restaurants in West Hartford.
Chock-a-block with dining facilities, West Hartford can overwhelm with eating options, from the great to those best avoided. But despite its location on the thriving and bustling streets of West Hartford, Pho Boston is not one of the most recognized or highly regarded restaurants in the area, though it should be.
Pho Boston is an authentic Vietnamese restaurant that offers some of the best Asian eats in Connecticut. The restaurant isn’t big on décor, but customers crave its quality food and reasonable prices.
But unless you’re Vietnamese or know someone that is, teasing out the best dishes for a diverse meal at Pho Boston can be discouraging. This is simply because the menu’s options are endless. My guess is that amateur Vietnamese cuisine diners will probably look past the truly authentic Vietnamese fare and go for the more familiar.
So to prepare you for your excursion to Pho Boston, I think that now would be the perfect time for some private lessons on a few cultural recommendations and facts about Vietnamese cuisine that are practiced at the restaurant.
Vietnamese cuisine is known for its common use of fish sauce—a staple ingredient in not only Vietnamese cuisine but also Thai, Philippine and other Southeast Asian cooking–soy sauce and hoison sauce. All are popular condiments and dipping sauces that are provided with nearly every meal at Pho Boston. The soy and hoison sauces are actually kept at every table for easy access.
The use of vegetables is also very prominent in Vietnamese cuisine. Much of Vietnam is lush and fertile due to an extensive river system, which makes it ideal for growing a wide range of vegetables that are eaten in abundance. The menu holds true to this by offering vegetables in soups, stir-fries and curries, in a rice paper wrapping with the egg or spring rolls, served as a side dish or salad or as a vegetarian plate.
A traditional Vietnamese meal consists of Pho (soup), a stir-fried dish and comes to a close with something a little salty.
Pho bo, which has been around for nearly 100 years, is the national dish of Vietnam and is served at almost every local Vietnamese restaurant. In Vietnam, Pho can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The dish is a bowl of long rice noodles that swim in a savory and delicious beef broth, is topped with thin slices of rare steak and garnished with scallion rounds, onions and cilantro. On a separate plate comes Thai basil, lime, jalapeno and bean sprouts for an additional kick of flavor. The broth is intensely meaty but balanced and not too sweet.
Beef pho isn’t your only choice at Pho Boston, though. There are many varieties of pho with different selections of meat—chicken being one of them.
For a stir-fried choice, I highly recommend the watercress and fermented bean curd. Most people would expect a pungent, funky flavor from the bean curd, but it’s actually quite mild and provides a subtle saltiness and creamy sauce, a great contrast to the bright green and vegetal flavor of the watercress.
Some “safer” stir-fry choices include the sautéed broccoli and shrimp dish (tom xao cai ro) and the chicken curry and vegetable duo (ga xao ca ry). All entrées are accompanied by a plate of steamed white rice.
One of the most intriguing salty choices on the menu is the Yang Chou fried rice (com chien duong chau) with a combination of shrimp, cubed pork, egg, Chinese sausage and cubed carrots.
By the way, the little bowl provided with your meal isn’t just there for soup. To eat like a real Vietnamese, scoop or ladle out a portion of food from the larger dishes into the bowl and eat out of that.
One of the best appetizers is the egg rolls, which are stuffed with ground pork, carrots, onions, rice, vermicelli and dried mushrooms and are wrapped in a super thin, crispy and golden brown rice paper. The contrasting temperatures and textures of the crisp, hot egg rolls wrapped in cold lettuce is what are most pleasing. After you wrap the rolls in a leaf of lettuce, add a few sprigs of mint and cilantro, dip the leafy bundle into the fish sauce (nuoc mam) to get the full effect.
Pho Boston typically retains the cultural practice of not delivering the bill to the table because in Vietnamese culture, this is considered rude. It is seen as a way of rushing the customer out of the door.
So far, Pho Boston’s eclecticism hasn’t drawn crowds, but I think that the place is a real gem and a neighborhood restaurant that is far too good to keep a secret.