Friday, June 5, 2009

One of the Best Deals in Town: Pho Viet at the Super 88 Food Court, Boston

I have previously raved about how the Super 88 Food Court in Allston is one of the great places to take kids for a meal. But the truth is that I really only go to eat at Pho Viet. For me the hardest part of going to this Vietnamese stand is not ordering the entire menu. I will even admit to driving far out of the way to get there! Because of the distance I am willing to go, I often order about 5 to 6 things and consume them over the course of a few days. Each item is so well made and is so inexpensive that it never feels too extravagant. However, know in advance that their food is best eaten fresh, topped with crunchy herbs and vegetables.

I love so many parts of this place. First, as a number of the choices aren't well known (there are very few authentic Vietnamese restaurants outside of Chinatown and Dorchester), the descriptions, photos and warm service help tremendously.For a special treat, I sometimes order the fried spring rolls. They are crisp with minimal oil and filled with shiitake mushrooms and carrots. These rolls are pretty perfect and you can almost convince yourself that they are healthy. As an alternate, you can also order their fresh rolls which consist of rice paper tucked around vegetables and served with peanut sauce.

One of my absolute favorite dishes are their bowls of chilled pho or rice noodles. (Pictured at the top of the post). You will get a dish filled with noodles and covered in pickled daikon, carrots, cucumbers, mint, scallions, and cilantro. You choose your protein (I lean towards the lemongrass chicken or the roast pork) and end up with a dish that is simultaneously crispy and sweet, rich and light. The key is to first pour on the side of fish sauce and, if you are so inclined, some spicy sauce. The flavors just explode-salty, sweet, crunchy, juicy, hot.

Their best deal (not that anything is expensive) is one of the best sandwiches in Boston- Banh Mi for $3.25. In fact, on many occasions I have seen people walk away with BAGS of these items. They are so good. A hold over from French occupation of Vietnam, the Banh Mi consists of a fresh, crispy French roll filled with any protein (again, lemongrass chicken and pork are my favorites, though some days I just go for the tofu). In addition, the sandwich is spread with mayonnaise. Finally, add on stalks of cilantro, daikon and carrots which add a satisfying crunch. These don't travel particularly well, so eat one while you sit there and take the soups to go.

And I can't end without raving about their soups. Each one is made with homemade broth. The chicken, for example, is scented gently with star anise and cinnamon. The most popular, which I haven't quite had the courage to try, is beef with tripe. Either way, you get a huge steaming bowl of homemade broth filled with either rice or egg noodles. It is served with a side of onions, cilantro and lime. These add a critical and completely delicious layer of flavor. If you order their soups to go, they package each part separately so the noodles don't get too soggy or the vegetables too limp.

There are also wonderful (especially for children) multicolored sweets. Some are filled with taro, other mung beans, in addition to sweet gels and creams. But, my dessert is consistent: a cup of hot soy milk! It may sound either completely unappealing (if you are not a soy milk fan) or boring. But this is the real thing-homemade and steamed. It is warmth in a cup. It tastes like a thin vanilla shake-just a bit nutty and creamy but light. It is perfect paired with hot foods to cool things down.

I can't get there enough. And I can't wait to eventually try more of the menu!

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