We've all been to the restaurants where we order in numbers. Whether you're ordering off of an industrial food menu board at McDonald's or a salsa-caked one at the Mexican dive down the street, you have to admit a sense of justification comes from having your 'usual'.
It didn't take me long to realize that Pho Duy was doing some really good stuff, and that I wanted to go back again and again. As a matter of fact, the first time I walked in unsuspectingly with a fellow foodie co-worker, we could hardly find a seat let alone a parking spot. Normally a good sign, in my experience, and the rest is history.
Now for those of you who don't know what pho is, roughly described it is a Vietnamese broth noodle soup with many varieties of beef that you can choose from. Rare beef and well done brisket make sense to me, but if you want to get crazy you can opt for tripe, tendon, etc. Traditional fare includes jalapeno, lime, culantro (an odd family member of the familiar herb), bean sprouts, and basil for you to add as you please along with a slew of condiments.
Now even though we had to wait a second for a table on our first busy visit (actually I mean it, a SECOND), it would definitely have been worth a wait. But we've never had to because this place turns over like a well oiled engine, people flowing in and out of the door, servers flowing in and out of the kitchen with noodle bowl after noodle bowl, and of course delicious food flowing into the stomachs of some kind of oddly satisfied mob. And I get the feeling that such a mob would be somewhat unruly if they didn't get their pho.
Now if you've ever seen the Seinfeld "Soup Nazi" episode, you know that there are certain rules that need to be followed at some fine establishments. Or else guess what? That's right, no soup for you. But this time the soup is the most wonderful concoction of pho, because you essentially made it yourself. Anyways, here's the rundown on how Pho Duy II works, at least at lunch:
1. Walk in
2. Stall for a second
3. Make eye contact with the host, who is likely across the dining room somewhere
4. He will hold up a few fingers, confirming the number in your party
5. You confirm by slightly nodding your head, and walking over to your table
6. Order spring rolls, devour
7. Fix up pho (details to follow)
8. Eat pho.
9. Pay for pho. No need to wait for the check, head up to the register and somehow they always magically know what you had when you get up there... weird.
Time for the details. Now this is one of those instances where you have someone who does a few things, and does them very well. Simple is the name of the game. The decor is simple in a comfy patio furniture sort of way. A few tv's are on in the corners, and if you go at the time I do around 11:45 (to beat the blue/white-collar rush) you may get to catch up on your soaps and make up the dialogue as you go along. Lunch and a show... can't go wrong.
The menu is simple too. Kind of. You may opt for a Ca phe sua da to drink, traditionally served over ice. This drink becomes a balanced, sweet iced coffee after all is said and done, and definitely adds to the experience.
Whatever you do, don't pass on the spring rolls. Or as I like to call them, little drops of heaven. Rice noodles and fresh herbs are wrapped in thinly sliced beef, topped with shrimp and rolled in a rice wrapper. But it's the peanut sauce that brings the whole thing together- I could drink the stuff through a straw.
And finally comes the pho. On the menu there are about 20 different variations of the stuff. My suggestion is to opt for the #10 (rare beef and brisket), make it a small, and add extra noodles.
I love the fact that you make the pho to your tastes, and we're not talking salad bar here. Go to town on your fixin's. I normally push 2 pieces of jalapeno and some sprouts to the bottom to stew, squeeze 2 limes and break some culantro and basil all over the place.
And now, it's all about the condiments. You're not going to find ketchup or mayo, but rather Hoisin sauce, Sriracha, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil to include to your heart's content. Any of these condiments will add true depth in the sweet, spicy, and savory departments.
Now this one's uncharted territory for the Dish, but I had to give Pho Duy (number II to be exact) the credit that it is due. After all, I have made sure to return at least weekly since I first discovered it because they truly are a wonderful little oasis in northeast Denver. Lucky you, they have locations in Littleton, Broomfield, Greeley, West Denver and others. Be sure to swing by and get creative, and who knows maybe you'll even cure your cold with this magical soup. It's been reported to do so.
Dish it up Denver!