It’s not often anymore that my wife and I are both out-and-about at lunchtime. Not like in the olden days. (Cue nostalgic music. Okay, that’s enough.) It happened yesterday, though, and we took full advantage of it. Our mutual timing was off, so I got in a few minutes of unanticipated Christmas shopping and then PJ arrived. After our individual appointments the only item left to settle was where to go for lunch.
I stuck my head into the nearest shop door and asked if they had a recommendation. The shopkeeper simply pointed south. I backed up and looked: Pho Thaison, right next door. Ah! And we didn’t even have to drive anywhere. Splendid! (Next time I’ll look around more, I promise.)
We were a bit late for lunch, and the joint was almost completely full. This outlet of Pho Thaison has been here a while now though we’ve never tried it, we’re seldom over in these parts for lunch. No time like the present to correct that little oversight. The space is quite small, as it was a tiny spiritual bookstore, once upon a time. They’ve done a fair job with the decorations, and it’s more like cozy than cramped. The servers were hopping with lunch meal delivery in full swing.
Once we got our chance to order I selected pho tai chin while Paula Jo went for a vermicelli bowl. No surprise there! She also ordered a shrimp spring roll, while I ordered a couple of fried egg rolls. Service was sedate at best, but we weren’t in a rush and so we dallied over our appetizers and chatted.
We’ve talked pho here on the Underground a lot recently, and rather than rehash some of that stuff, I’ll present the ups and downs, the stuff we noted that was different enough to comment on…
The menu’s quite extensive, and it really doesn’t do this place justice to call it just a pho restaurant. It’s clearly providing plenty of Vietnamese dishes, with a lot more fish specialties than usual. I’m not a big fan of fish myself, but if you want pho and you have friends who want Asian style fish, that may recommend Pho Thaison to you all by itself. There’s a nice selection of vegetarian/vegan meals, some with Thai and Singaporean essence. Plenty of salads too, if you’re watching your girlish figure (like me).
The spring roll was large, nicely stuffed with goodies and very tasty. The egg rolls were hot and tasty too, but a bit on the small side. I think they were hand-rolled, but I couldn’t confirm that. The dipping sauce wasn’t anything special, though, so I gladly used my favorite “Vietnamese ketchup,” Sriracha. One note: There wasn’t any garlic chili sauce (or sambal oelek) on the table, an odd “exclusion.” I can’t remember a pho house that didn’t have that stuff out. They had some for asking, though. I think it’s just that the tables are quite small and get crowded quickly. So if you’re a fan of that red (and red-hot) paste, ask.
The pho add-ons were the largest collection of herbs, sprouts and such that I’ve seen in a good while. Plenty of fresh jalapeño slices too. My pho was nicely supplied with cilantro (a favorite) and sliced green onions, as well as plenty of meat. The broth was clear and fairly light, with less star anise than in many bowls of beef pho I’ve enjoyed. Lots of flavor.
The bowls and such were a bit more colorful than we’ve seen in other pho places. A very nice touch, adding extra visual appeal.
The only drawback we noticed was the carpet. It’s sadly in need of replacing, and is noticeable enough to detract from their other attempts to keep a positive ambience. (I mean, to the extent that a simple pho place needs atmosphere.) Once I was face-down in my fragrant bowl of soup I clean forgot about the floor covering.
It’s worth noting that business is good for Pho Thaison. In today’s economic climate, that’s a good sign. I’ve said before, the good eateries do all right when times are tough. As one of the top-rated Vietnamese diners in Austin, they’re more than good enough! Give’em a try if you’re in the area, or check out one of their several other outlets around town; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed…
Pho Thaison (Allendale/North Austin location), 2438 W Anderson Ln., Austin, TX 78757. Phone 512.420.0001. Plenty of pho, Vietnamese and Thai specialties (including some sushi) served lunch and dinner, seven days a week, in a comfy little place. Vegetarian and vegan friendly. Gluten-free friendly. Takeout available.
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