I’ve not been eating out much since the Holiday break. Concentrating on writing keeps me close to the keyboard, and the pantry and fridge are well-stocked. When I leave the friendly confines of the Chile Underground World Headquarters and Pepper-Perceptive Man Cave it’s to visit the gym or the store.
As a consequence, I’d not been to one of my usual hangouts since last year. I made an executive decision to change that, and I sent a note off to the Primary Spousal Unit and declared my intentions to lunch at Pho Hoang in Round Rock. (We call Pho Hoang a Round Rock restaurant; it’s officially in the north edge of Austin, with an Austin mailing address; on the south side of Texas 45 across the freeway from La Frontera.)
Somehow, even though the idea was mine, PJ got to the restaurant ahead of me. And she has several miles further to go! I suppose offering to eat Vietnamese for lunch tore open a time-warp in the space-time continuum in the Austin area. Or something. In any case, She
Who Must Be Obeyed and her BFF were already seated and digging through the menu when I arrived. There were about six empty seats in the whole place at that time, with more folks coming in behind me.
A few words about the dining area. It’s not fancy. Tables are arranged in long rows, with occasional small gaps to break up the monotony. Sturdy wood chairs are placed all along the tables. There are a few higher chairs arranged along a raised bar, mainly intended for single diners; this bar gives a wonderful view of the parking lot. Yeah, it’s definitely not fancy, but if you want fancy you’ll go elsewhere anyway.
If you want tasty, inexpensive and quick, then Pho Hoang is the place.
The service at Pho Hoang is fast; lightning-fast! The crew working the tables and the “back office” are pretty much intact, the same faces I’ve gotten to know over the past half-decade. Hard-working and busy, always smiling and chatting. They don’t slow down. We had a couple minutes to make our choices, though I knew exactly what I wanted: Pho Tai (No. 1), Cha Gio and water (I’d had too much caffeine already for the day). PJ asked for her favorite vermicelli bowl, containing pork and egg rolls along with all the vegetables and warm noodles. She added an order of Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon). Ms. D chose a combination fried rice, one of her favorite Chinese-style meals.
Often I choose one of the other Pho bowls, such as Pho Tai Chin (which includes well-done brisket). Today, though, I wanted the lean round steak slices. And Pho Hoang didn’t disappoint. Plenty of protein, very hot broth, and tender noodles; ideal! A generous supply of bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai basil and jalapeño slices accompany the pho, along with a piece or to of lime to supply a sprinkle of citrus if you desire.
The egg rolls are hand-made and deep-fried and they come to the table piping-hot. Everything comes out so quickly that hot foods don’t have time to cool down much. Which means you need to pause and admire a bit before you dig in, or you’ll be waiting for your tastebuds to grow back. An additional word of warning: If you do manage to burn your tongue on the soup, set the Sriracha and Sambal Oelek aside for the meal. Take it from a pro, that stuff will add more than insult to your injury; you’ll have to have grafts or a transplant.
All that said, I think Pho Hoang serves one of the best bowls of pho in central Texas, and they have an extensive menu of Pho, Vermicelli bowls, Bun and Com dishes, Egg and Spring Rolls, Fried Rice, Pork Chop plates and more. Although they’ve finally had to add a bit to their prices (they were unchanged for years), they’re still a great value for lunch or dinner.
Sometimes I order a Viet-style soda, which they call Soda Chan; citrus flavor with soda water and a bit of sugar lurking around the bottom. You can drink from the top for a tart treat, then stir in the bottom a bit and slurp up a sweet mouthful of limeade. Or you can simply agitate the whole thing when you get it and have a slightly sweet, lightly bubbly limeade.
I love this place, and I’m sorry I skipped it for several months. (It’s my loss, of course.) I used to eat lunch at Pho Hoang as often as twice a month, back in the day. Having “found” them once again, I think I’ll
find an excuse to renew that ritual…
Pho Hoang (Round Rock), 399 W. Louis Henna Blvd., Austin, TX 78728. Phone 512.238.8008. Inexpensive, pho-house Vietnamese with other Asian offerings; open 9-9 seven days a week. Free Wi-Fi.
Enjoy the (Pho Real Vietnamese) Heat!
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