Pho 777 Vietnamese Restaurant201 E 2nd St.
Reno, NV 89501
I was in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and had a great conversation with a cab driver who had moved to the States from Vietnam only a year ago. When I told him I was from Reno, he enthusiastically replied: “Very good Vietnamese restaurant there: Pho with three sevens.”
Pho 777 has long been the standard-bearer against which all other local Vietnamese restaurants must be judged. It was one of the first Vietnamese places in town, and has served consistently high-quality fare over the years. They recently moved across the street and a block up from their old location (from 201 E. Second to 102 E. Second). Their old location, at the street level of the Mizpah Hotel, no longer exists, destroyed by the twin dragons of drunken arson and urban renewal.
The new location, strangely enough, used to house another Vietnamese restaurant, Kim Son, which had better atmosphere but slightly inferior food.
Inside, the new Pho 777 is a lot less attractive than Kim Son was. The lights are bright and unflattering, the tables are laid out in uncomfortable, communal school-cafeteria rows and there’s no music. The overall effect is a sort of forced intimacy with the people sitting next to you.
The old Pho 777 was tiny and cramped, but always bustling enough to feel exciting. The new location feels a little uncomfortable.
“Yeah, the atmosphere was great,” said my girlfriend Sara after the meal. “We were seated with a nice view right in front of the fire exit.”
Service is touch-and-go. They’re quick, efficient, and attentive when taking orders, but you might have to wait a while for a water refill or a chance to order more spring rolls. But service and atmosphere are not why you go to Pho 777. You go there for the food. More specifically, you go there for the pho, everybody’s favorite beef-noodle soup and restorative Vietnamese elixir. Hearty portions, fresh ingredients, cheap prices: $4.50 for a “small” that could feed a whole family.
Part of what’s great about pho is how interactive the stuff is. You can tailor each bite to taste, adding basil or bean sprouts or plum sauce depending on how you feel. The problem with this is that it makes it all too easy for the overzealous amateur to foul-up his bowl. I went way overboard with the chili paste. My broth was as flaming red as the rising sun and hotter than a blowtorch enema. But I have no one to blame but myself.
The best surprise of the meal was the barbecued lemongrass chicken over rice for $5.45 that Sara ordered. It was great, with a rich, full, slightly burnt, umami taste that really caught me off guard. I had assumed everything besides the pho would be an afterthought at a place called Pho 777, but it seems like everything on their menu is worth exploring. And it’s way cheap. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better meal for two for $15 anywhere in this city.