alibi online
2014 Best of Burque RestaurantsFree Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 
 V.20 No.3 | January 20 - 26, 2011 

Restaurant Review

Pho Saigon

Pho for the fun family

A Thai-style hot pot is cooked right on your table.
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
A Thai-style hot pot is cooked right on your table.

In recent years, Albuquerque has been home to at least four Vietnamese restaurants with “Saigon” in its name. Those familiar with Vietnamese cuisine won’t be surprised, as its pool of restaurant names, by some unwritten decree, remains curiously small. So many contain the word “Pho” you’d think it was a synonym for Vietnamese food, rather than a bowl of soup.

Steamed bass with ginger and scallions
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Steamed bass with ginger and scallions

Case in point: Pho Saigon occupies an East Central strip mall space that used to be home to another restaurant named ... you guessed it ... Pho Saigon. The couple who own the new place are veterans of the scene: The husband helmed the previous Pho Saigon kitchen, while the wife cooked at Saigon Restaurant on San Mateo. Less than two months into business, their food is confident and polished.

One such dish consisted of fried quail that was served quartered on a large square of sticky rice. Next to the plate was an artfully arranged bowl containing a lime wedge and a mixture of salt and pepper, along with another bowl of sweet-and-sour sauce. Each component of the quail dish shone through, and the combination was simple brilliance.

The seafood dishes are also especially strong. Salt-and-pepper squid was pan-fried in butter to a light crisp, then served flanked with onions and bell peppers. On the decadent side, steamed bass with ginger and green onion is a dish you’ll find on the menus of good Chinese restaurantsin fact, Best Lee’s and Budai do it well. But I prefer Pho Saigon’s rendition. The fish’s buttery flavor and firm white flesh conspired with the sauce to give a flavor reminiscent of Japanese hamachi. And I appreciated an over-the-top abundance of freshly grated ginger. The bass can also be ordered lightly fried, coated in a panko-like crisp.

The fish’s buttery flavor and firm white flesh had a flavor reminiscent of Japanese hamachi . And I appreciated an over-the-top abundance of freshly grated ginger.

Many of the most interesting options, including some of the above, are on the menu’s back page, listed as “family-style” dishes available only after 5 p.m. They're not for folks in a hurry. Every time we ordered one, about 10 minutes later someone would inevitably wander in, order pho, receive it, eat it and head for home before our food arrived. If you’ve got time, however, the family-style plates deliver in both size and quality.

The “F8”a crispy fish resembling a toothless piranha smothered in tomato saucewas good enough to justify the half-hour wait. The tomato sauce was bright red and chunky, made with tomatoes that started off whole 30 minutes earlier. And the Thailand spicy-and-sour hot pot, ordered vegetarian, was cooked at our table on a portable burner. The simmering sour broth held a rainbow of bell peppers, two kinds of mushrooms, bac ha (elephant ear stalk, related to taro) and other veggies. The mixed vegetable-and-seafood hot pot also had an addictive broth, although I found myself wishing for more seafood than just shrimp and fish cake.

Ivy Chau helps her parents while they’re busy in the kitchen.
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Ivy Chau helps her parents while they’re busy in the kitchen.

A ladle would have been nice as well, as filling my bowl with a soupspoon got old pretty quickly. Graduating to a tea cup seemed to catch my waiter’s attention, and an appropriate serving utensil quickly appeared. But there wasn’t an equally subtle form of sign language to remind the boys I’d ordered coconuts to drink. They seemed well-intentioned and sincerethey just had a habit of practicing their dance moves or playing with their cell phones while the water glasses remained empty.

If price or wait time are issuesor if you just want some phothen by all means, this pho is worthy. The broth was fragrant but not overpowering when the herb salad and sauces were added. Pieces of tendon were creamy and slices of steak had a nice texture.

A Vietnamese sour soup, filled with vegetables and tofu, was evidence that this place should keep vegetarians happy. Sweetened with pineapple chunks, the broth had a cumin-like flavor. As with all Pho Saigon’s tofu dishes, the tofu had a crisp skin and soft interior. Slices of that spongy bac ha soaked up the complex red broth, which was full of tomatoes, browned onions, sprouts, basil and celery.

Service or no service, I’ll take outstanding food like this any way I can get iteven if the young wait staff is as green as the chefs are seasoned. But if you’re too high-maintenance to roll with some bumps in the road, you better give this place a few more months to figure it out. Me, I won’t be waiting.

View Pho Saigon in Alibi Chowtown calendar

The Alibi Recommends:

• Basscrispy or steamed with ginger and scallions

• Fried fish with tomato sauce

• Thailand spicy-and-sour hot pot

• Pho

Pho Saigon

7226 Central SE, Suite B
232-3446
Hours: Monday through Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Price range: $6.50 (bowl of pho) to $35 (grilled whole catfish dinner)
Ambience: Vegetal
Vegetal options: Plentiful
Plastic: Yes
Alcohol: No
Lunar New Year special: Come Friday, Feb. 3, through Sunday, Feb. 6, for lion dance performances and free dessert.
 

Today's Events

Corrales Growers' Market at Corrales Growers' Market

Fresh, locally grown food and fantastic local music.

Downtown Growers' Market on Civic Plaza at Civic Plaza

Gateway Grower's Market at South Valley Gateway Park

More Recommented Events ››
Join our mailing list for exclusive info, the week's events and free stuff!
 

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • alibi.com
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Rocksquawk Discussions
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Del.icio.us Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.
    3 BAD JACKS
    3 BAD JACKS9.28.2014