I always have my eyes open for new pho places. Recently, a pizza place went out of business in a shopping area I frequent, and right away I noticed a sign that promised an opportunity: Pho Lee Vietnamese Restaurant would be taking over the space. White paper went up over the windows as the work crew decorated and remodeled. I made a mental note to check every week or so. I checked often, but no grand opening. Then I went away to Missouri for a few days.
I was in the area to buy some parts for my house, and I saw that the white paper was down. I also noticed that it was lunchtime. Funny coincidence, eh? Sadly, I also noted that the usually empty parking area was chockablock full. Not a slot to be found. I chose not to park near McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A; besides, they were doing their own land-office business at that time. So I did what every red-blooded American male does at that point.
I drove around and around until somebody left from in front of the restaurant, of course.
Fortunately, the wait wasn’t long. Satisfied diners were leaving the eatery, and that gave me my chance. I parked and jogged strolled into Pho Lee. I was greeted by a clean, spare, rectangular space with plenty of natural lighting (from floor-to-ceiling windows on the east and south) and an ordering area directly in front. Lots of tables, but with good space between them. I counted a dozen tables for two and about that many for four as I took my place in line. Which was short, as three fellows were taking orders and moving the diners along.
I made things simple, this being my first visit and all. I sprang for “the usual.” A regular bowl of Pho Tai (good ol’ Number 1), an order of Vietnamese egg rolls (Cha Gio, or A1 on their menu), and some water to drink. I paid up (about $10) and moved on down the line. Like most fast-casual places, this one has a tableware station and drinks dispenser, with the usual equipment and utensils. No chopsticks, though; a quick glance at the tables showed a large container of paper-covered wooden sets, which explained that. Also, the “big four” sauces were visible on the tables too: Soy sauce, Sriracha, garlic-chili sauce, and hoisin. The last three were in ample squeeze bottles, providing plenty for my usual
pigout sampling of the flavorings.
I carried my drink and order number to a table near the southeast corner of the dining area, where I would have plenty of light for reading (and for photos). My meal arrived very quickly, as pho customers are used to seeing. That’s my meal, shown in the snapshot above…
The broth was light and airy, not a heavy beef broth. Oh, it had plenty of flavor, and the bowl’s contents included the beef, noodles and plenty of onions, scallions, cilantro and more. The aroma was stunning
to a fella who was hungrier than he thought. In a good way. The “additions” plate had Thai basil, more cilantro, bean sprouts (for decoration, I assume; I prefer my beans fully-grown), lime slice and some fresh jalapeño bits. In other words, the standard goodies.
The eggrolls were too hot to eat right away. They’re hand-rolled and fresh, not out of a frozen bag. (I know; I peeked into the kitchen.) The dipping sauce is very nice, and a “Pho Lee special:” Some fish sauce, some rice vinegar, pepper flakes, very thinly julienned carrots, and I think a touch of sugar. There may be more, but my server wasn’t privy to the details (or wasn’t sharing; I wouldn’t blame him for that). Once I could eat the rolls I found them very crunchy on the outside, with some nice vegetable crunch on the inside too. Lots of other minced contents in there, hot but not overcooked. Delicious!
While I ate I perused their menu in more detail. (They have an interesting tagline: “The health conscious choice!” Agreed.) There’s a dozen appetizers, some of which I’ve not seen on other pho diners’ offerings. Like Lake Wings and Salt & Pepper Wings. Shoot, I don’t remember seeing any chicken wings on other Vietnamese places’ lists. They also have dumplings, edamame and seaweed salad. Next time I’ll check out their Special Pork Rolls, which are made with charbroiled pork. They make Cheese Rolls and Vegetarian Rolls too.
Lots of pho bowls are listed, naturally. Round steak, brisket, meatballs, flank, soft tendon, marble brisket, book tripe, seafood and chicken are all available, or simply with vegetables. Tofu too, if you insist. The pho bowls are priced at $6.75 for regular (small) or $7.50 for a large. A few bowls are cheaper, ones with vegetables mainly.
Vermicelli bowls (PJ’s favorite) feature prominently: Shrimp, pork, egg rolls, lemongrass, chili peppers, beef and tofu are all available ingredients, as well as vegetarian. Rice plates (Com Dia), fried rice (Com Chien) and noodle dishes (Mi) are present too, making Pho Lee a full-menu pho place (in my opinion). Lots of things on the menu that you don’t often see in pho restaurants, or places serving more generally Asian food.
Chinese-style dishes and Thai plates are offered, if you’re not into Vietnamese but are eating out with those who DO want that. Sesame Chicken, General Tso’s Chicken, Beef or Chicken With Broccoli are listed. So are Pad Thai, Pad Kee Mao and Pad See-Ew; all nice noodle dishes, and very tempting for my next visits. Red and green Thai curries are available if you like things zesty: Gang Dang, Gang Keow Wan and Panang Curry.
Beverages include Thai Iced Tea, Jasmine Tea, Café Den and Café Sua (black or sweetened milk coffee, hot or iced).
I thoroughly enjoyed my quick lunch at Pho Lee. Because it’s convenient I’m sure I’ll become a regular. (That, and I really, really like pho.) Their extensive menu with its novel offerings will give me plenty of choices before I’m forced to repeat myself. Their attractive prices don’t hurt anything either! Fast, cheap and tasty; how can you beat a combo like that? (After all, it’s made me what I am today.)
Of the (now) five pho places within a couple miles of my house, this one may be second on the list at the moment. I thought maybe first when I walked out, but that may have been the “new experience” boost at work. Of course, after I’ve been there a few more times, they could still take over number one…
Pho Lee Vietnamese Restaurant, 2601 S. IH-35, Suite A-500, Round Rock, Texas 78664. (In shopping complex in northeast corner of IH 35 and Texas 45; shares building with Supercuts and Lamb’s Auto.) Phone 512.310.8585. Fast-casual pho and Vietnamese dishes (and a selection of tasty Thai and Chinese too) in an uncomplicated setting, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Takeout available. Delivery available (limited area; call for information). Some vegetarian dishes. Cooks will adjust zest, spice and ingredients to suit.
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