This week, Spade and I had the pleasure of dining with a familiar associate. My 8-year-old daughter engaged on our feasting endeavor as we embarked our taste buds to travel a little farther east. A local favorite, we made a trip to Pho Saigon. It is a quaint restaurant nestled in a plaza on South Avenue in Boardman (near Sam’s Club). Having lived near this oriental eatery the last few years, it has become dear to my heart. It seems very inconspicuous from the outside amongst the other South Avenue inhabitants, but you will immediately think otherwise once you step foot inside. The Vietnamese restaurant has a very clean and sleek vibe with a touch of whimsy. The dining room is well laid out with room for bigger parties yet still set up with cozy corners. It is a small family owned operation that at times may seem slightly understaffed, but I think they handle it with grace. We were promptly greeted at the door with a warm smile and immediately brought to our seats, which I thoroughly appreciated. It can be very discouraging in certain instances when arriving at a restaurant you have never been to and not being immediately greeted.
Pho Saigon features both Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine as well as a few Thai dishes. This can be a fun change-up from your normal Chinese takeout. The menu can be hefty and slightly intimidating to someone who is not well versed in eastern dining. Luckily, I had my foxy female counterpart who has previously dwelled in Hong Kong for a season to help us navigate our dining decisions. However, have no fear if you are without a helmsman. My first suggestion (and something Spade and I always do before going to a new restaurant) is to check out their menu online. At least have an idea of some of the options. (You can check out Pho Saigon’s full menu @ here.) Secondly, ask your server for suggestions or just simply ask questions—this is what they are there for. You shouldn’t have to fend for yourself when dining in a new environment. Annie, one of the owners and operators, gladly answered all of our questions in a warm and hospitable manner.Moving forward, when dining with new or exuberant taste sensations, choosing a beverage is a major decision. You want something that is slightly aromatic but not over-powering. I began my journey east as I usually do, with a hot jasmine tea. It is served in the most charming personal tea pot with a matching teacup. I especially appreciated the level of service when my first cup was poured for me. Spade intended to acquire a glass of their bubble tea, but we were unfortunately informed that this was only served on Fridays when the boba was made. Her second option was heavier in nature; she ordered a cup of French-style coffee cut with condensed milk. Some readers may be acquainted with a French-pressed coffee, this was as such. However, what added a capricious distinction was that this was a singular French press. The coffee mug was adorned with the personal press and we watched as the coffee brewed before our eyes, slowly mingling with the condensed milk. The delectable potion had a bold, robust flavor that was well juxtaposed to the sweet condensed milk which collectively created a dense texture. Now to the really good stuff—for our first course we started with an order of summer rolls and an order of fried egg rolls. Summer rolls are traditionally wrapped in rice paper and served chilled.Ours were filled with chilled shrimp, pork, vermicelli, lettuce, mint and bean sprouts. All the greens created a very light engagement of textures with a nice crunch. Our pork egg rolls, or “Cha Gio” as they are referred to on the menu, were fried to perfection. Two dipping sauces were brought to enhance our rolls. Fish sauce for the egg roll which had a slightly sweet flavor to it, and peanut sauce for the summer roll. Personally we preferred the fried egg roll but this could be due to our presupposed western cultural perspective. Our second course brought some interesting creations to the table. I went for the house Pad Thai, a dish that is hard to find done right in this area. While Pad Thai is a traditional Thai street food, it does have Chinese origins which is why I believe it is on the menu. The culinary canvas was beautifully plated with chopped peanuts, bean sprouts and a cilantro garnish. The dish itself had wonderful, mild heat to it with just the right amount of savor and was portioned with equal parts shrimp, chicken, and beef. The bean sprouts and peanuts added a desirable though subtle crunch, making a great marriage with the soft rice noodles. Spade ordered a meatball and brisket pho (pronounced fə), a signature Vietnamese dish. Upon first taste what really stands apart is the aromatic broth. It has such a rich and delicate combination of flavors—umami is the best way to describe it. You can tell by how much love and care was put into the stock just by the deliciousness of it. The brisket was also another meaty, delicious component that only enhanced the outstanding flavor of the broth. We weren’t crazy about the “meatballs” (Spade suggests ordering the dish without them) but they were easy enough to get around.
What we loved most about the pho though, was the interactive characteristics. You could add different elements to your liking; bean sprouts for crunch, hoisin sauce for a sweet and spicy tang, or red pepper chili paste for spice. It was an amusing assortment of constituents. Don’t be shy in spicing up your pho! Also—my daughter ordered the sweet and sour chicken which she seemed to have plenty of fun with.To wrap up, the food was more than plentiful and this is definitely not a place that you will leave hungry. That said, the prices seem reasonable which makes this a good destination for families looking to do something different for dinner. Something else I’ll point out is the speed in which we received our meals. The time in between appetizers and your main course can sometimes be a daunting ticking of the clock. It was as though I blinked my eyes and the food appeared. I can whole heartedly say my family felt more than welcomed at Pho Saigon. It’s a great place in a comfortable setting where your taste buds can take a veer off the normal path of nourishment and still leave satisfied. I couldn’t have asked for anything more on a frigid Sunday afternoon.