Today’s guest post is a bonus, normally we’ll be posting these guest posts every Sunday. Our friend Chef RJ Marvin recently took a trip to the newly opened Pho Dollar in the West Side to see if it was any good. He was kind enough to write a review of his experience since we’re on vacation and wouldn’t be able to write about this newly opened Vietnamese restaurant. Here’s what he thought of his meal….
Today I received two separate text messages asking me if I have heard anything about this new little unassuming pho eatery on the west end of Ferry Street. Sadly, I had not. Now, I don’t mean “sadly” in a tongue in cheek sense. I mean I was saddened thinking about a steaming bowl of rich pho just sitting on a table somewhere on the west side waiting for me to slurp it up like a drunk dog. I decided to wait to answer both texts and I informed my wife that our dinner plans had changed.
Pho Dollar Restaurant is located on the western end of Ferry Street and from the outside you’d expect a simple dollar store. Its quite, cute and since it is settled across the street from a Dollar General it just seemed as if a little friendly competition set up shop. As it turns out I think a little competition is exactly what it is.
After walking in we were standing in what will eventually become the bar area (they’re currently working on a liquor license). There’s a long row of comfortable stools situated at a wooden bar that I could see myself getting drunk off rice wine and arguing over a sport I clearly know nothing about. The bar area has a few tables for dining but situated lower than the main dining area. Once we were discovered, we were warmly invited to come upstairs.
As we ventured up I noticed we we’re the only two Caucasians in the restaurant, which instantly gave me a nice warm fuzzy feeling in my gut. A large family style table was situated in the center and was occupied by family. Two children played as parents ate and laughed. A few tables down a man stands up and greets us. A young woman handed us menus and hot tea. We drank some jasmine tea and weren’t exactly sure if we were in a restaurant or in someones personal dining room. The area is small and I could see it getting fairly cramped on a busy night but somehow it still felt open. Being that it’s segregated from the downstairs bar and away from all of the windows into the real world it felt really fucking comfortable.
A large flat screen television playing Vietnamese-pop karaoke took up residence on the back wall of the room. Interactive dining? A little entertainment, perhaps? Again, I imagined myself drunk off rice wine walking aimlessly through a crowd while singing Ziggy Stardust terribly out of key. I was getting way ahead of myself and snapped out of it. I peeked at the menu. It has options and options. Rice noodles, stir frys, summer rolls, hot pots, bubble teas and egg sodas man! Egg sodas! There are quite a few items that I plan on weeding my way through like a fat Forrest Gump all dumb and blissful because hey, I may be stupid but I know what love is. I already knew what we were getting before we walked in, so when Lindsey looked up at me from the menu with big doe eyes I just ordered a couple summer rolls with chicken and shrimp, one BBQ pork banh mi thit and two big bowls of pho bo.
The television played a few more hauntingly beautiful love ballads before the summer rolls arrived. They were standard. Chewy and refreshing. Tightly wrapped and filled with vermicelli noodles, cucumber, shrimp, chicken, cilantro and a little mint. The classic peanut dipping sauce rounded out the little treat as I per usual grabbed one and while holding it like a cigar pretended I was Groucho Marx. I think we were off to a good start. Next came the banh mi. Personally I have trouble finding banh mi in Buffalo. I will say that The BMFT and Tabree both offer stellar, beautiful variations of the classic but that simple little fucker is not easy to come by. Now Banh Mi is all about the bread, plain and simple. Although this version had delicious pickles and the bbq pork, the bread was thick and lacked the crispiness I expect. I also like my banh mi a little on the spicy side and this guy was missing fresh jalapenos. I reached for the bottle of trusty sriracha to give it some heat and noticed that the bottle was so fresh I had to break open the seal. Ah, nothing like a brand spanking new bottle of sriracha. All in all, I will say at $4.95 the sandwich was damn good and well worth the money.
Our pho arrived at the table accompanied by the standard plate of garnishes. Chilies, bean sprouts, thai basil and limes. The broth’s fragrant aroma immediately hit my nose and I was filled with warm spices. Cinnamon, star anise and a buttery richness that engulfed my senses. Now Lindsey is more of a purest than I am and aside from a few bean sprouts, she leaves her broth unchanged. I myself like a spicy, tangy soup loaded with basil but before I piled it in I made sure to sample the broth. It was good. Really good, actually. Meaty and rich, yet clear and light. Loaded with rare beef, brisket, tripe, tendon and beef balls. Once I tossed in the chili oil, lime and basil it was as comforting to me as it could get. It was a contender and easily better than the median of pho I have had here and I have inhaled the soup in just about every possible place that serves it in Buffalo. I’ve slurped it up, dank holes in the wall and sampled the more round eye renditions served up in the Caucasian ran establishments. To me it is a treat to be able to taste what is clearly one family’s variation of a standard recipe and see it change from place to place. Some places offer up a more spiced out version rich with star anise, cinnamon and cardamom. Others serve up a more bare bones and salted broth flavored deeply with brisket and oxtail.
Pho Dollar offered me a wonderful experience in its mere infant stage and that alone is worth writing about. I’m excited to try more and I genuinely hope this place holds steady the course and finds themselves among those listed as the places to eat great pho. Worst case scenario, we can all drink and sing David Bowie’s entire catalog.