Wendy and I made an unplanned pit-stop to refuel with a nice big steaming bowl of pho during a recent drive through Vancouver, and Pho Hoang was the first one we passed. The signs on the door were covered in awards from the Westender and four or five Golden Plate awards from the Reader’s Choice awards in the Georgia Straight so we thought this place could be something special.
The menu had a more varied selection than usual and we pointed out to each other several items to try on future visits, but decided we both were in the mood to try some plain old pho. And after all a good Vietnamese restaurant can be judged by the quality of its pho, so we were excited thinking this would be “the best”. We were brought a pot of complimentary tea while we were in menu mode. Complimentary tea at Asian restaurants tends to be a bit watered down and boring, but this one took the cake. It was watered down so badly you could not detect the tea at all, and if I had been told it was water with a drop of food colouring I would have believed it.
To start we ordered up an appetizer of the small size Banh Tom Co Ngu ($4.95), basically yam fries with nouc mam, that sweet fishy Vietnamese dip you normally get with spring rolls and things of that nature. Most of this dish was stuck together into large clumps, and in many of the fries the batter was far more prevalent than the small julienned yam pieces. While normally when having a meal with Wendy you can’t go wrong with yam fries, this time neither of us liked them much.
We don’t review many of these places although we eat pho on the regular because it can be difficult to differentiate one pho from another. But at Pho Hoang it was easy to see the difference. For mine I had a large rare beef and tendon ($7.50). The broth was nice and hearty looking and with a taste to match, however when I got to my first piece of tendon and tried to take a bite it went shooting out of my mouth and splashing back into the soup! It was hard as a rock and slippery as an eel. While some subsequent pieces were soft, tender and chewy others looked like they had been pre-chewed and spit out and after several more hard uncooked pieces we were left with quite an array of inedible pieces on the plate next to us. The pieces of beef on top of the soup did come rare, but after cooking it the texture was grainy and old and the meat that had been in the broth to begin with was quite clumpy. I also got a piece of tripe in there which was no problem for me, but may be for many people who find a cow’s stomach lining extremely unappetizing. I was really disappointed with this one.
Wendy had better luck with her small House Special ($6.75) because she liked her favourite part, the tripe. However she had the same issue as mine with the tendon being hard and uncooked. She was quite fond of the hearty broth though.
Maybe we just came on an off night, but if the food here is normally this shoddy I can’t see why Georgia Straight readers are so fond of it. Portion sizes were average value for the dollar here as well, nothing more nothing less.