Pho real, pho real
Pho Viet5948 Auburn Blvd.
Good for: classic Vietnamese and Chinese fare
Notable dishes: fried flounder, pho, anything with chicken
Usually when a restaurant tries to tackle two different regions’ cuisines, that’s a sign that quality isn’t really a big focus. But Pho Viet, located on Auburn Boulevard in Citrus Heights, serves both delicious Chinese and Vietnamese food to families, couples, college students and a surprising number of people stopping in solo for a quick bowl of pho.
I was one of those people when I stopped into Pho Viet for the first time early last year while researching the top 10 bowls of pho in Sacramento (see “Sacramento’s top 10 best pho restaurants” SN&R Feature Story, January 14, 2014). Pho Viet’s beef pho was refreshing, with a lot of star anise flavor. It’s probably my second favorite bowl of pho there, though. The chicken pho’s even cleaner, with a clear broth that exudes plenty of cold-fighting flavor and juicy shredded chicken.
On more recent visits we started branching out beyond the restaurant’s namesake, and were pleasantly surprised with the quality of many of the other dishes. For example, the restaurant’s bún (vermicelli noodles) dish with pork, shrimp, egg rolls and assorted veggies (cucumber, lettuce, bean sprouts) was refreshing on a hot day. The star is the grilled pork, which sports a red color, presumably from an incredibly tasty marinade that balances sweet and salty almost perfectly.
The same delicious pork makes its way onto a rice plate (kind of like the bún dish, but with rice instead of noodles) and into a recent addition to the menu, baacute;nh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich). Pho Viet’s grilled pork banh mi rivals a lot of the ones in South Sac. The aforementioned tender and flavorful grilled pork plays well with pickled daikon and carrot in between fresh-baked French baguette bread.
For Chinese fare, we tried a plate of salty fish and chicken fried rice, a fried salted-and-peppered flounder (a special off-menu item) and clams stir fried in black bean sauce. Again, this trio of items impressed. The salty fish and chicken fried rice featured well-cooked (but not dry) chicken with a nice smoky wok flavor and a hint of cured salty fish. The flounder was plated beautifully: an entire fish—bones and all—fried golden brown, with extra bits of fried roe and diced chunks of fish sitting on top. Its flavor was sweet and spicy, with aromatic diced jalapenos and onions bringing out the richness of the roe and buttery texture of the fish.
The stir-fried clams were coated in a flavorful black bean sauce, but could’ve used a little less flour when stir frying; little clumps of flour were stuck inside a number of the shells. Also, a handful of the clams didn’t open up, which made us a little paranoid that they weren’t heated all the way. Perhaps those could’ve been discarded or been reheated.
We ordered many more dishes than there’s room to discuss here—including Vietnamese crepes, salads and Chinese stir fries—but the quality didn’t waver. That quality extended to a number of drinks, including soda lemonade and lemon iced tea—both of which are sweet and tart—and Vietnamese drip coffee, which can be served hot or cold. Like many of the Vietnamese spots in Little Saigon, the restaurant serves homemade baked desserts, and the coconut-and-banana-flavored rice cakes tasted sweet and chewy—sort of like sponge cakes but made of rice flour. Servers were attentive and helpful with recommendations on all visits.
After more than a year of visiting the restaurant on a regular basis and trying at least a dozen dishes, we’ve yet to find a lackluster one. It’s hard to fathom how any restaurant can cook such a diverse amount of recipes so well, but the team at Pho Viet is a talented one, for real.