Eating pho is a ritualistic practice.
It all starts with the fragrant beef broth in a big bowl brimming with silky rice noodles and slices of toothsome beef.
But the diner-participation part of the equation makes pho an exceptionally tasty experience, thanks to a side plate of fresh veggies and herbs that provides textural contrast to the tender counterparts in the bowl.
In other words, some assembly is required when eating pho. That’s what makes it so much fun, tearing the basil leaves into the soup, adding the bean sprouts and sliced hot peppers, and spritzing everything with lime wedges — bringing the depth of flavors full circle. Let’s not forget a squirt of fiery Sriracha chili sauce.
You can enjoy this experience in a pleasant setting at Pho Le, an eatery that recently opened on Broadway Avenue. The restaurant, as the name suggests, specializes in pho and other tried-and-true Vietnamese specialties.
Pho Le sits smack-dab in the center of the Broadway Park shopping center, a strip mall that was partially destroyed by fire in 2014. It’s located in the rebuilt part of the shopping complex next to Mount Everest Momo Café.
While the Vietnamese fare stays the traditional course, the attractive dining room boasts a modern feel, with deep-grey hues, large paintings and a few bonsai trees placed here and there.
The menu offers a step-by-step guide on to how to eat pho, and there’s even a pronunciation glossary so you don’t butcher the Vietnamese language when ordering. For example, pho is pronounced “fuh.”
All this is helpful for pho neophytes, who tend to be a little intimidated (or shall I say, confused) the first time they order the national dish of Vietnam.
Besides the menu verbiage, the friendly wait staff is accommodating and happy to tell diners about the food of their homeland.
The restaurant serves beef pho with fun names in four sizes. No chicken pho. No seafood pho. Just beef pho.
A bowl of Pho-Tastic ($13), the second largest size, came to us steaming, the broth clear yet beefy and redolent of star anise and roasted garlic. (Did I mention the cooks make their own beef stock?) The rice noodles, reminiscent of angel hair, were bathed in aromatic broth, dotted with chopped scallion and topped with sliced beef meatballs, brisket and shaved ribbons of pink rib-eye steak, slowly fading to brown once pushed into the hot broth. I asked our server for the beef tendon, which is optional and how Vietnamese people typically eat pho, but when the bowl came, it was missing the alabaster strands of collagen.
A bowl of Pho-Sure ($10) essentially held the same ingredients as the Pho-Tastic — only it gets served in a smaller vessel.
An expected side plate of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno, purple-stemmed basil and lime wedges lent itself to the bowls of soup.
Diners also can score a colossal bowl of Pho-Nominal ($15) and a Pho-Kids option ($7), which is perfect for the wee ones or those with smaller appetites.
A short appetizer list primarily consists of egg rolls and fresh summer rolls.
During one visit, the cha gio egg rolls ($6) — wontons filled with seasoned pork, tiny strands of vermicelli, shredded carrot and onion — were good and crunchy thanks to a few minutes in a bubbling deep fryer. The bias-cut egg rolls came with a tangy golden fish sauce and a few bland iceberg lettuce leaves for wrapping around deep-fried nuggets. The promised cucumber didn’t make it onto the plate.
Summer rolls ($6) will remind people of Thai spring rolls. Opaque sheets of supple rice paper are rolled cigar-thick around shreds of roasted pork loin (on the dry side), plump cooked shrimp, shredded carrot, fine vermicelli noodles and basil and lettuce leaves. The little logs were situated around a thick and aromatic soybean dipping sauce akin to hoisin, garnished with crushed peanuts.
Veggie summer rolls ($6) basically contain the same ingredients as the regular summer rolls except the pork and shrimp get replaced with pieces of deep-fried tofu.
A tall glass of Vietnamese coffee ($5), a dark chicory and coffee blend swirled with sweet condensed milk on ice, definitely had my heart skipping a few beats.
Besides pho, diners also can get spicy noodle soup ($13), a large bowl of ropy rice noodles bathed in piquant shrimp broth with slices of marbled pork loin and peppercorn-studded pork sausage. A side plate of fresh offerings (cabbage chiffonade, basil leaves, sliced jalapeno and a tangle of shredded banana flower) was there for accenting the soup.
Vermicelli is offered in two forms at Pho Le. I went for the carnivorous version ($10): A bowl of rice noodle threads topped with marinated, grilled beef (with lots of lemongrass and other spices) and tender shrimp gussied up with crinkle-cut carrots, lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, cilantro and crushed peanuts — served with a small dish of golden fish sauce. You also can get a vegetarian version for the same price.
The eatery serves a banh mi sandwich (made with sliced pork loaf, pate, marinated pork, pickled veggies and cilantro), but it wasn’t available during my two visits. (They were still working with Zeppole Baking Co. to perfect the custom-made French rolls.)
In all fairness, Pho Le is so new that it’s obviously working out some kinks, yet they are off to a good start.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly at email@example.com.
Address: 2146 S. Broadway Ave., Boise
Phone: (208) 807-2341
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Menu price range: appetizers $6; pho, banh mi sandwiches and vermicelli and rice dishes $6-$15
Libation situation: Diners will soon be able to get beer and wine. Expect to find wines by the glass, bottles of imported Vietnamese beers and other Asian brews.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: May 2016