Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pho Ha

Saturday March 20th 2010
Pho Ha, 6th and Washington, Philadelphia, PA

I almost can’t think of anything to write about this place, because there’s nothing really that funny about it. It’s an amazing restaurant run by true professionals. This whole strip of Washington Ave, starting at 6th St and continuing until about 12th or 13th, is littered with Pho restaurants, almost all of which look like they’d be good, yet every time I come down this way, it’s straight to Pho Ha.
The moment you enter someone shouts from the opposite side of the room and flashes you a hand signal indicating how many people they assume to be in your party. Like, two people walk in, he throws up two fingers and then points at which table we sit at. Or, we’ve got three more people meeting us, he throws up two fingers, but I flash him the whole palm so he directs us to a larger table. It’s startlingly efficient, you don’t even have to pause your stride, the whole thing takes place in less than two seconds.
Usually the waiter/host meets you at the table they just pointed you towards bearing menus and a pot of green tea. Time to make your selection is limited, a couple minutes max. This isn’t the type of place you order drinks and then food. It’s all at once. And it comes quick. Sometimes you even get your food before your drinks.
Generally I get the same thing every time I come here: a small white meat chicken pho and a Vietnamese iced coffee. Val and I’s first time here we ordered large pho’s, a wasteful mistake. Scott Reber, master of consumption, is the only person I’ve seen take one of those cauldrons down. For a while I was simply ordering chicken pho, and sometimes it would come with a lot of thin white meat chicken strips and sometimes it would come with mostly chicken skin and strange tissue pieces, until it started always coming with mostly skin. I gave it a shot, eating a few bowls prepared that way, but in the end decided I, for whatever reason, prefer the white meat slices, and began requesting them.

The iced coffee’s are served in a small glass with about a half inch of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom. The coffee slowly trickles onto the milk from a metal filter on top of the glass, forming two precise layers which are mixed with a spoon and poured over ice. This might be the only way I drink sweetened or creamed coffee, which normally I would consider contaminated.
On this particular day our pho bowls were as perfect as they’ve ever been. The broth’s steam and layer of floating onions hid the tangled treasure of firm noodles which I promptly surfaced from the bottom of the bowl. A bottle of Sriracha chili sauce is at every table and I like to squirt a little bit of that at each end of the bowl and mix it all up with the noodles. I think I went a little too heavy on it today, but it makes it feel so much more rewarding when you finish it that way, like you broke a sweat working too hard or something. It’s a feeling of accomplishment.
This combination of the coffee and the pho is unstoppable. It can be eaten for any meal at any time of the day and can cure almost any ailment. Last time I was here I laid across two chairs, wearing crooked sunglasses, sluggishly stirring my coffee and milk together, slurping one noodle at a time, trying not to cause any inner conflict. I thought I might have been a little overconfident in leaving the house and ordering food. With time my slurping pace increased, my drink was successfully stirred and sipped, and before I knew it, I was back in the game! A miracle meal.
Pictured below is my bowl of chicken pho and Val’s bowl of chicken and tripe pho.

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