As many of my Raleigh readers already know, there is a spoonful of Vietnamese heaven hiding off Capital Blvd just outside the beltline. I speak, of course, of Pho Cali.
After a long night of playing loud rock music for the masses, myself and a band of struggling late-nighters took a mini road trip down Capital to feast on the heartiest of the hearties. Amidst my ringing ears, the damp rain, lack of proper footwear and lingering flavor of PBR on my palate we tumbled thru the door. The space is lack luster, simple metal tables spread across an empty room stocked to the brim with chop sticks, fish sauces, and other questionable asian condiments.
Most may turn and run in a fit of uncertainty and intimidation, but I’ve been assured so many times on the quality of this hole-in’da-wall’s craft, retreat was not an option. We sat, dazing across a menu of never-ending soup options, with an unspoken consensus: we were here for the Pho.
Pho (pronounced “Fa” in Vietnamese) varies from home to home, province to province, but ultimately appears as a bed of noodles, herbs, and animal parts floating in an deep broth simmered for hours on end. Anthony Bourdain has claimed this to be his all-time favorite meal which, in my book, equals good eats. Without hesitation we ordered: “All the way, please.”
Moments later and our table was scantly visible due to the punch-bowl sized platters placed before us. With each heaping bowl of soup came a tray of fresh cut limes, bean sprouts, Thai Basil leaves, and sliced chiles. And what, pray tell, does “All the way” include you ask? Oh, nothing more than the finest thin cut strips of top round, tripe (stomach lining), tendon, meatballs, and other beefy bits. Beneath all is a submerged mountain of rice noodles begging to be drawn from their brothy depth and smothered in numerous toppings.
I kid you not when I exclaim this was the best bowl of soup I’ve had in years, years dude! Each bite, spoon and chop sticks dancing in perfect unison, was an explosion of sweet, sour, spicy, and salty. Soft noodles swimming in an unctuous broth intermixed with strips of tender tendon and topped with lime juice and basil leaves.
Did you ever think tendon and tripe would have you drooling? If you’re still reeling, don’t worry, not only was the meal delicious but lacked any gamey-irony-offal taste so often associated with second-hand animal parts. More than anything the cuts acted as texture components, adding complexity and dare I say fun to the dining experience.
Best of all was the warm welcome by the restaurants staff who willingly tended to our every need and seemed so gracious of our enjoyment in their wares. With that I’ll end by thanking the band of brothers who introduced me to this hot spot of hot pots, the staff who fed us so well, and the many meals to come as this Vietnamese soup kitchen becomes an all time fave. Goodmorning, Vietnam!
The Verdict: Yuuuup!