Something You Should Eat: Pho

January 12, 2010

Pho from Pho Viet

Pho from Pho Viet

Every Tuesday, I'm going to introduce you to one dish, one snack, or even just something as simple as a little bite that I think is worth your time and money. With all due respect to Harry Porterfield, we're calling it "Something You Should Eat," and I promise every week we'll bring you something delicious to add to your foodie checklist.

This time of year, I'm all about the soup. Clam chowder, minestrone, chicken noodle and beef barley, of course. But also, a number of ethnic soups and stews that are just as filling and satisfying: Mexican posole, Thai hot-and-sour and one of my favorites, Vietnamese pho. Pronounced "fuh," this soup is ubiquitous in Uptown, mainly near the intersection of Broadway and Arglye, but especially along Argyle St. between Broadway and Sheridan. For the past few years, I've been bouncing between Pho 777, 888 and Tank Noodle, also called Pho Xe Tang. Awhile back, my colleague Michael Nagrant did some focused eating for Time Out, and came up with a great list of must-visit pho joints. But a recent trip up to the area yielded some impressive pho from Pho Viet (4941 N. Broadway Ave., 773-769-1284) as well.

The spacious dining room features the usual scene in these parts: locals and ex-pats, busily slurping down large, steaming bowls of the stuff. Shift your head over the bowl to get a whiff - there's the complimentary Vietnamese facial - you'll no doubt inhale aromas of cinnamon, clove and star anise. Then begin exploring, pushing your chopsticks around; you'll see bits of flank or round or brisket (depending on your order) as well as thin shards of raw onion, fresh cilantro and scallion. Dig deeper now, excavating the toothsome, white rice noodles at the bottom, slowly absorbing all of the rich, heady broth, and making for some rather tasty chewing.

Alongside your bowl, you'll be presented with a plate of fresh bean sprouts, some fresh basil, perhaps a few leaves of culantro, aka saw-leaf herb - a version of coriander - some fresh lime and a few slices of fresh jalapeño.‚  I usually skip the bean sprouts, but tear up the fresh herbs into the bowl and then give it a good squeeze of lime for added acidity.‚  You could also squeeze a bit of sweet hoisin and a little bit of hot sriracha chili sauce into a tiny saucer, which gives you some options when plucking out the pieces of beef from the soup.‚  It's an inexpensive way to explore Uptown and specifically, the varied and herb-laden cuisine of Vietnam.

Pho. It's something you should eat. Foodie Notes:

  • Speaking of soup, Ben Pao (52 W. Illinois St., 312-222-1888) is running a "Chinese Soup for the Chicago Soul" promotion during January, which is - surprise - National Soup Month.‚  Their Chinese Medicinal Soup has a number of good-for-you ingredients in it (at least according to Chinese medicine).‚  The base is their homemade chicken broth (all natural chicken, tofu, spinach, bok choy, and ginger) and then they can add the following ingredients: Ginseng, Chrysanthemum, Chinese Angelica Root, Chinese Yam, Astragalus, Dried Lily Bulbs or Chinese Yam. Your herbalist in Chinatown can tell you which ones might be good for you. Available for lunch and dinner, Ben Pao's Chinese Medicinal Soups are priced at $11.95 and served in a large clay pot enough to serve six people.