Pho is one of my favorite things to eat. And when I come down with a cold it’s the first thing I crave. The lite beef broth, the rice noodles, the thin slices of rare beef and all of the wonderful herbs and spices that make up a bowl of Pho just seem … healing.
I’ve tried a lot of different Vietnamese restaurants in Houston and have been blessed with taste buds that appreciate all different cuisines. Combine that with a group of friends from many different Asian cultures and I quickly learned where to find my favorite Pho, Banh Mi, Dim Sum, Som Tum and Curries in the city. Some of the dishes I’ve eaten would make most people a little uncomfortable. Pig Feet, Chicken Feet, Duck Feet, Stinky Tofu, Fish Eye Balls, Congealed Pigs Blood. The latter was ingested only because a sneaky friend told me it was black bean tofu (the flavor convinced me otherwise!).
Fast-forward ten years. My foodie friends have all scattered across the country and because I love to cook and don’t live nearly as close to Bellaire and the Beltway I couldn’t tell you the first thing about where to eat in Chinatown. My last few visits have left me disoriented. Nothing looks the same as when I once frequented the area. I have lists of places I want to try, but I just never make it over there. I’ve become (drumroll) … an Inner-Looper.
When I woke up on Sunday morning with an awful cold three days in the making I had visions of Pho dancing in my head. Later in the day I read an article discussing Swine Flu and the drug Tamiflu. Apparently one of the important components of the drug is Shikimic Acid which is isolated from Star Anise. After a temporary shortage of Star Anise the drug companies found an artifical way to create Shikimic Acid and there are no longer shortages of the wonderful spice. For anyone who doesn’t know – Star Anise is one of the main ingredients used in Pho broth. It was meant to be.
I immediately started searching Yelp for Pho near my house (one of these days I’ll make it out of the loop again!). My go-to place for the last year has been Pho Saigon on Milam. It’s always delicious, but I’ve been on a mission lately to try new places. There are quite a few solid Vietnamese restaurants in the Midtown/Downtown area and after searching I realized that I’ve tried most of them. Pho Nga had somehow slipped under my radar so my roommates and I headed there for dinner.
Like many of the Vietnamese restaurants in Midtown Pho Nga is an unassuming place. We entered through a side door and I was greeted immediately by delicious aromas. For the first time in days I could smell something! We were seated by the window and water was brought to our table. I looked through the menu for future reference, but I already knew what I was ordering. Pho Tai.
While we munched on ordinary BBQ Pork Spring Rolls our waiter brought out a plate of basil, bean sprouts, fresh jalapenos and limes to add to the Pho. When my soup arrived it was already garnished with cilantro and green onions and you could see where the beef fat had created drops of oil in the broth. Oh, heaven in a bowl! I quickly started making the Pho my own by adding everything from the plate along with a few squirts of Sriracha. As I slurped up the noodles and picked up pieces of beef with my chopsticks I entered a sort of food trance. I really enjoyed the broth and kept trying to pick out the Star Anise flavors along with everything else. Cinnamon? Ginger? Cloves?
I would certainly recommend Pho Nga and am happy to have a new place to add to my Pho rotation.