Most Vietnamese restaurants in these parts have menus that are mirror images of one another.
It’s pretty much all about the pho, banh mi sandwiches and vermicelli noodle dishes in the Boise area.
Granted, this might be a reflection of the fact that the Treasure Valley has a relatively small Vietnamese population compared with Seattle and Portland, where Vietnamese eateries often boast a regional inflection. Don’t get me wrong, typical pho shops are ubiquitous there as well.
While Boise and its surrounding burbs don’t have Hanoi-style street food or, let’s say, a Mekong Delta-inspired seafood joint, we have come to expect big bowls of pho beef noodle soup (pronounced “Fuh”) served with a side plate of fresh veggies and purple-stemmed basil. How about deep-fried spring rolls? Yep. Plenty of those, too.
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You can score these traditional dishes and more at Pho 779, which recently opened in Meridian along Eagle Road near the corner of Ustick Road. The fast-casual restaurant is owned by Peter Bui, a friendly guy who strives to keep the focus on customary Vietnamese specialties. He supplements his menu with a few Chinese and Japanese standbys, just in case diners balk at the Vietnamese cuisine.
The ordering system speaks to efficiency and speed. Customers order at the counter after choosing items from three large menus that flash on flat-screen TVs, and the food gets delivered relatively fast to their table.
Appetizers (called side orders) include Vietnamese-style fresh spring rolls and crispy spring rolls (cha gio), in addition to other Asian starters such as tempura shrimp, wonton soup, crab rangoon and sweet and sour pork. But I didn’t come to a Vietnamese restaurant for Chinese food.
The cha gio ($5.50) were a little greasy one day. Sure, the deep-fried spring rolls had a tasty filling of seasoned ground pork, thread noodles, onion and carrot, yet the egg roll wrappers were saturated with oil and not crunchy as one would expect. Most Vietnamese places serve cha gio with lettuce leaves and herbs for wrapping around the fried morsels — which helps to cut the greasiness — but that’s not the case here. I did like the syrupy sweet chili dipping sauce, though.
You should definitely stick with the fresh spring rolls ($5.50). Four opaque tubes of soft and moist rice paper get filled with poached shrimp, pieces of tender pork, rice noodles, cilantro and crisp lettuce, served with a hoisin-spiked dipping sauce.
Now let’s talk pho. This beef noodle soup — with all its variations — is considered to be the national dish of Vietnam. It’s served there morning, noon and night. Pho is simple food by design. It all starts with aromatic beef broth with hints of star anise, onion and roasted garlic, which bathe a tangle of rice noodles topped with different cuts of beef. Then diners can add fresh basil, bean sprouts, sliced hot peppers and a spritz of fresh lime. Plus, there’s always a plastic squeeze bottle of Sriracha chili sauce around for those looking to spice things up.
While Pho 779 follows this expected pho formula, I found the beef broth to be short on flavor one day when I slurped some meatball pho ($7.95), a big bowl brimming with fine rice noodles, chopped scallion and marbled meatballs (good and squeaky) cut into bite-size quarters.
The brisket pho ($7.95) had slices of beef submerged with the rice noodles in the same broth, only the brisket came fully cooked and was a tad bit tough. I like it when the ribbons of beef still have some pink in the center, then you can sink it into the hot broth with the tip of a chopstick. The kitchen needs to work on that.
Both bowls were served with a side plate of fresh Thai basil, cilantro sprigs, crunchy bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno and cut limes.
Banh mi sandwiches at Pho 779 are made on crusty, house-baked French-style rolls. After all, Vietnam used to be a French colony. Once again, Vietnamese food is supposed to be simple, and these traditional sandwiches aren’t meant to have everything but the kitchen sink on them. I enjoyed a banh mi ($4.50) filled with a smear of chunky pate, ham-like pork, fresh cilantro, sliced jalapeno and shredded daikon radish and carrot. You can also get banh mi sandwiches with chicken, beef and vegan offerings.
Vermicelli noodle dishes (bun) are a wonderful thing on a hot summer day. I recommend the bun (not a bun in terms of bread) with grilled shrimp and pork ($8.95), arranged neatly in a big bowl with cool rice noodles, bean sprouts, sliced cucumber, cilantro and shredded carrot. Little dishes of chopped peanuts and sweet and tangy nuoc cham sauce are there for dressing the noodles.
Another good pick is a rice plate ($8.95) that boasts tender, grilled chicken strips flecked with tiny threads of lemongrass and other seasonings, next to a mound of steamed rice, lightly steamed cabbage and carrots and a bowl of nuoc cham for drizzling on everything.
It’s important to note that the place doesn’t serve beer or wine, but diners can cool off with bubble (boba) teas ($4.95) and delicious Vietnamese iced coffee with milk ($3.95/café sua da) that’s sweet on the backbeat.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 3327 N. Eagle Road, Meridian
Phone: (208) 884-2550
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Menu price range: starters, sandwiches and desserts $3-$7.95; noodle soups, rice plates and other entrées $7.95-$10.95
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: May 2017