Looking for an un-pho-gettable meal? Let our dining writer take you on a tour of four new-ish Vietnamese eateries.
CreAsian Bar & Grill
Opened: January 2018
There’s a certain dissonant tension to this North Phoenix spot, as if it can’t quite decide if it wants to be a neighborhood pho joint or a white-tablecloth café with Bizarre Foods, safari-esque menu ambitions. But that’s not to say you can’t eat well here. The Pho Special ($11.50) with steak, meatballs and brisket, more than meets the requirements of a satisfying bowl of hot soup. The grilled whole squid ($8) allows the creature’s flavor to come through, even with applications of a surprisingly punchy ginger sauce. The showoff section of the menu is the CreAsian Skewers ($2-$5), featuring standards like beef tongue and lean, juicy frog legs along with a variety of offbeat meats like alligator and kangaroo, which change daily. On our first visit we tried camel. It was chewy but flavorful, and now I can say I’ve eaten camel.
Must try: The steak and egg, sizzling on a skillet with rice and greens, is perfect for those who find pho a trifle insubstantial.
13216 N. Seventh St., 602-441-4668
Opened: January 2016
In a strip mall across from Mesa’s Mekong Plaza – in the heart of the Valley’s fast-rising Asian shopping and dining epicenter– you’ll find this prettily appointed pho emporium, attached to the first-rate Vietnamese market Winglee Poultry Combine. As usual, the menu’s baseline is the beef noodle soup, pho dac biet ($8.50), loaded with bits of steak, meatball, tripe and tendon in a light, steamy broth, and it doesn’t disappoint. The Korean barbecue short ribs ($9.95) pull tastily off the bone, and the pork patty rolls ($4.95), which wrap cabbage and other veggies in a fascia of cold-cut pig, are an interesting alternative to spring rolls, although the spring rolls ($3.95) are quite good in their own right.
Must try: The shaking beef ($11.95), chunks of cow in a skillet with veggies, rice and butter, is a carnivore’s delight. But if your attentive server offers you a side of dark chile paste “if you like it spicy,” proceed with caution. (But, seriously, do proceed.)
111 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-668-1060
Pho King Kitchen (pictured above)
Opened: March 2016
Vietnamese food has become familiar enough in America that it’s begun to be hybridized with other ethnic cuisines. At this funky brick-and-mortar home base for a couple of equally funky food trucks, Pho King and Paradise Melts, we get a fusion of Vietnamese and Mexican eats, notably in the Chicken Pho-jita ($6/$10), offering fajita-style peppers and shredded pollo alongside the noodles in a South-of-the-Border-tinged pho (pronounced fuh) broth. And since the pho tastes like fajitas, why shouldn’t the tacos taste Vietnamese? Hence the refreshingly light lemongrass shrimp taco ($4) or the tempura tofu taco ($4), both with Lao salsa. The Burrito Phorrito ($8) continues the genre-bending, with stir-fried veggies, cheese and rice wrapped in a tortilla, as does the bánh mì sandwich ($10) with pulled pork, kimchi, pickles and other veggies folded in crunchy Persian sesame sourdough, with mozzarella. It all works.
Must try: I hate to resort to this, but the Love Muffin cupcake ($4, different flavors daily), is, well, Pho King good.
8018 E. Thomas Rd., 480-947-5100, phokinghungry.com
Opened: January 2018
The number of Vietnamese restaurants to be found out in the wilds of Surprise is, well, a bit of a surprise. I counted two, V.Nam Pho and Saigon Kitchen, on Bell Road alone during my westward trek through town. Even with the windfall of places to score a bitchin’ bánh mì, Surprisians (Surprisers? Surprisens?) should welcome this old-school eatery. Of all the stops on my tour, it was the most basic in its menu offerings, but the quality was top-notch and the service friendly. The filet mignon pho ($12.99) was as lean as it sounds, and the seafood pho ($11.99), full of fat, sweet scallops, shrimp, squid and crab, was even more savory. The barbecue pork chop ($11.99) with salad, rice and a side of soup easily manages a heartier appetite, even without the inevitable spring rolls ($4.99/$8.99) on the side.
Must try: We’ve neglected the subject of tempting Southeast Asian beverages, so: The Thai tea with boba ($4.49) here hits the spot.
15693 N. Reems Rd., Surprise, 623-546-1111, surprisepho.com