One really shouldn’t forget friends, but as life takes you in new directions you sometimes leave some behind. It’s not often a malicious or mindful loss, just one you don’t notice as it happens. The usual excuses apply: We moved, our careers pushed us into different circles and locations, and so on.
If they’re really friends, though, it’s a great pleasure to reconnect with them. Even for a moment…
Happenstance and timing placed PJ in one of our old stomping grounds just before lunch the other day. She’d also forgotten a key item
in her rush out of the house to work that morning, so she wanted me to meet her at Tan My for lunch. I almost drew a blank on that one, until she said, “You know, Tan Tan?” Oh! Yes, of course, one of the first hole-in-the-wall pho places we’d ever experienced after our return to Austin, nearly two decades ago. (Has it really been that long? Sheesh.)
PJ beat me to the restaurant (of course) and snagged a table near the back corner. I was warmly greeted by the owner lady, who acted as if it hadn’t been years since she’d last seen me. I didn’t have to wait for my spouse to notice me; I was already being led to my seat as we chatted. Nothing meaningful, just the usual greeting prattle, with smiles all around. I even felt I should joke about ordering my “usual,” but I was a little embarrassed to try it. After all, what if she got the order wrong? Or worse yet, if she got it right? I demurred and said I needed a couple of minutes.
PJ hadn’t wasted any time, however. She already had a soda chan to hand, and there was evidence of some spring rolls who had met a timely fate. She tried to claim the dishes were leftovers from previous diners, but I could see from her face she was fibbing. No, really; there was still peanut sauce on her chin. And a huge grin. The burp she tried to hide in her napkin didn’t help her veracity index any . I simply asked if they were as good as always, and after a short pause she nodded, slightly.
For folks who haven’t been to Tan My, it’s a very small place; cozy and unpretentious. It’s in the east end of a very small strip mall just off of Research Boulevard, on Ohlen Road. Parking isn’t extensive, so go with a group or you’ll have to park down the street and walk a bit. (The food’s worth that.)
The menu hadn’t changed in our extended absence, at least not in any way I could detect. I chose the pho tai chin and an order of fried eggrolls, and PJ went for her usual vermicelli bowl (Bun) with shrimp and lemongrass. It was good as usual, but we’d been away for so long that PJ forgot to ask for the extra sauce, and they didn’t remember to add it.
Oh well. That’s what you get for ignoring friends for so long.
My pho was tasty, and I couldn’t detect any changes in the recipe. A sturdy broth over a generous mound of cellophane noodles, with eye round steak and tasty brisket all around. Plenty of chopped scallions and some cilantro, of course. White onion. A few other bits. Like we’d never been away, actually. I added plenty of Thai basil and jalapeño slices, then topped it off with soy sauce and lime juice. A very satisfying bowl of soup for lunch! With Sriracha and garlic chile sauce for dipping (the egg rolls too), it was a very filling meal for not very much money. (Two appetizers, drinks, tip and more, and we drove away for a little over $20.)
I still say Tan My needs to expand. Their food is plenty good enough. But I bet they have a great deal on the location (assuming they don’t own it outright), and it’s right in the middle of a growing Vietnamese community; why leave? They still pack the place regularly, often with a line at lunch peak. That’s in spite of the fact that the number of pho choices in Austin has exploded since Tan My got its start (as Tan Tan, many years ago).
How does the food at Tan My stack up against the competition? They’re in the middle, I’d say. Not that their quality has diminished; there are a lot more choices these days, though, and some are putting out an upscale product. Still, if you’re looking for a comfortable friend in the business, one that won’t surprise you with sometimes bad food, then you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Tan My. For us, at least, they’re like that old outfit that you wear which maybe doesn’t shine enough for a night on the town, but you can lounge in it and let your hair down. You’ll never give it up, though you might let it get pushed to the back of the closet, every now and again. (You’re always sorry you let that happen, though, once you find it again.)
Don’t go to Tan My for the ambiance; there isn’t any. (The aroma’s inviting, though.) The folks are friendly and the food is high-quality, fast Vietnamese. The prices are still among the best in Austin too. I’m not a fella who needs the show; I’m about the food and the service, especially for lunch. If you’re like me, give Tan My a try…
Tan My (Vietnamese Pho and more), 1601 Ohlen Rd., Austin, TX 78758. Phone 512.832.9585. Tasty pho, bun, rice and more in a no-frills setting, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Some vegetarian dishes. Takeout available.
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