Hit the spot
On the corner of a long-established shopping center near Kietzke and Gentry, there’s a small restaurant space that has housed several businesses over the years. Pizza, Mexican, Thai and Filipino food have all come out of that kitchen, and if you go back far enough you’ll remember when it was an ice cream parlor with some unique flavors. (Coors Beer ice cream, anyone?) Pho Kietzke is the latest to make a go of it, and it might just be the one to make it work long-term.
The new decor is simple but pleasant with seating for perhaps 45 people, broad-leafed plants, and wall niches displaying small objets d’art. The staff is attentive, and the service is quick and pleasant. We never wanted for a drink refill or other request.
Our group ordered a variety of dishes from both the entree and appetizer menus, and for such a small place, the menu isn’t lacking in Vietnamese and Chinese options to choose from. We started with coi cuon ($5): spring rolls stuffed with shrimp, pork, lettuce, mint and vermicelli served with a very good version of peanut sauce. The rice paper wrapper was a little chewy, but the ingredients were well-balanced with none overpowering the whole.
Up next, tom chien bot ($6.50): five butterflied prawns fried in breading, and served with hearts of romaine lettuce, sprigs of fresh cilantro, fried spring onions, and a light sweet and sour sauce. I enjoyed the garnish perhaps more than the shrimp. It was practically a salad in its own right. The prawns themselves were OK but nothing I’d order again. I generally find breaded shrimp to be lacking in actual shrimp flavor, and these were akin to any you’d find elsewhere. Much more impressive was the muc chien don ($7.95), several flat squares of squid mantle fried crispy in a light batter, tasty and deliciously tender. The sweet and sour was really optional because the calamari itself had so much flavor.
Rounding out the appetizers was an order of canh ga chien ($4.95): six chicken wings fried with fish sauce and served with a pile of garnish similar to that served with the prawns. If you’re unfamiliar with fish sauce, you might be taken aback the first time you catch a whiff. It’s the Asian equivalent of a strong, stinky cheese, and like its aromatic cousin, the flavor is worth the initial olfactory jolt. My wife’s not usually one to brave anything cooked this way, but she admitted the wings were worth it. If we weren’t ordering entrees, I would have asked for a couple of more plates of wings.
My wife’s wonton soup ($6.50) featured the eponymous dumplings of ground pork and shrimp wrapped in egg pasta, topped with barbecue pork and mixed vegetables in a chicken-based broth. Nothing fancy, yet full of comfort food goodness. “Hit the spot,” was her pronouncement on the subject. Similarly on target, the mi xao ga ($7.50) is essentially chicken chow mein with fried vermicelli standing in for chow mein noodles, stir-fried veggies and chunks of tender chicken. It's a little different than I expected, but in a good way.
My favorite, pho dac biet ($7.50), vermicelli soup with rare beef, well-done flank, brisket, tendon, tripe and meatball, was a perfect rendition of this noodle shop standard. Tons of meat, great broth—exactly what I’m looking for when I want pho. My second favorite, bun thit nuong cha gio ($7.50), flame-broiled pork, egg roll, and vermicelli noodles with lettuce and veg on the bottom, was pretty much perfect. Having tried our favorites, I can say we’ll definitely be back to explore more of the menu.