Soup that'll put meat on your bones

Viet Thai’s hearty pho is a local foodie favorite
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Caitlin McGrath
Pho tai bo vien, a steak and meatball pho, is one of the many varieties available at Viet Thai in Irondequoit.

A popular television show (OK, it’s Seinfeld) once debated whether soup was a meal. And while some argue that soup is not filling enough for a meal, there are a few varieties that can be: creamy chowder, hearty bisque, and pho.

What was that last word? Pho?

Never heard of it? Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is quickly becoming common lexicon among food lovers in area. A staple street food in Vietnam, pho can be found in a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the region, including Viet Thai on East Ridge Road in Irondequoit (sister property to SEA Restauranti s on Mount Hope and Monroe Avenues). While this restaurant occupies an unassuming corner of the Atrium Mall, the massive bowls of pho coming out of the kitchen are quite noticeable.

Pho is a noodle soup, similar to ramen—but that’s where the similarities end.While ramen noodles are made from wheat, pho noodles are made from rice. Pho is served in a basic form: At Viet Thai, noodles rest at the bottom of a piping hot bowl of beef broth flavored with scallions, onions, and cilantro. In the depths of a large serving bowl (the menu also has an XL version), the mixture doesn’t look filling, but it’s the additional options that start to make the soup a meal. I went with the traditional pho tai bo vien, which is steak and meatball pho. Bean sprouts, basil, and lime (brought to the table on a side plate) turn an empty-looking bowl into one full of flavor and texture.

Viet Thai’s beef broth is strong, but it’s not overpowering, which allows you to enjoy the taste of onion and cilantro. Wafer-thin slices of steak and sliced meatballs don’t add much flavor to the broth, but the larger items are a nice alternative to soups with smaller vegetables and meat chunks. Adding the bean sprouts to the hot broth softens them slightly, but they retain a nice crunch when you bite into them. The rice noodles are satisfyingly chewy, though they clump at the bottom of the bowl sometimes and need to be separated.

Pho looks a bit complex to navigate, so Viet Thai gives you various ways to conquer this. Using chopsticks is the traditional method because it allows you to grasp a hearty portion of noodles, meat, and sprouts. You could also use regular silverware or a soupspoon (though you may still need chopsticks to move the large pieces of meat from the bowl to your spoon).

You can order Viet Thai’s pho with a variety of meats including meatball, brisket, flank, eye of round, steak, and chicken (which comes in beef broth, but you can ask for chicken broth).There’s also a seafood pho served with chicken broth and a special pho (dac biet), which combines all the meats.

Pho is the national dish of Vietnam, but the history of pho, and even how to prepare it, is disputed (many believe pho originates from a French soup brought over when the French ruled the country). Pho prepared in the northern parts of Vietnam differs from the south. No matter how it’s prepared, a bowl of pho makes a delicious, satisfying meal—hearty enough, even, to avoid adding crumbled crackers. 

Juan Vazquez is social media and audience engagement manager for WXXI Public Broadcasting and lives in the Cobbs Hill neighborhood. 

Categories: Taste, Taste – Top Story