Friendly Staff, Friendlier Prices
Viet’s Pho serves hospitality and huge portions
If there is one cuisine that Albuquerque has in spades (besides, y’know, New Mexican), it’s Vietnamese. And you will never hear me complaining about this: Banh mi are my favorite, and nothing warms the soul like a big bowl of pho. I’m not sure if soul-warming was really what I was after when I went to visit Viet’s Pho right after a sweaty workout last week, but I was certainly looking to replace some spent calories.
Viet’s Pho, the latest in the city’s constellation of Vietnamese restaurants, has been getting great reviews on Yelp in the nearly two months that it’s been open. From a few reviewers I learned that the place was opened by some of the former staff at Viet Taste, a much-loved Vietnamese restaurant that, incidentally, is just a mile down Menual. Many of the regular customers at Viet Taste seem to have migrated to this new spot as well, as I saw the staff at Viet’s Pho greeting some customers like they were old friends. I was even greeted with familiarity after having visited there one time before. Right off the bat, I was very impressed with how friendly and professional the staff were towards everyone who walked in the door.
The space used to be a Chinese restaurant, and you can tell: The frosted glass murals of pandas and dragons remain. I don’t know if the large-print bamboo wallpaper is new or original, but it lends a kind of chilled-out spa quality to the restaurant, added to by the all-strings instrumental covers that seem to be played on repeat. This relaxing vibe helps, because the restaurant is usually pretty busy—a popular spot for families and big groups.
After we were seated by the chipper waitress, my friend Matie immediately pointed out that there were reusable chopsticks in our napkins instead of the typical single-use wooden ones, which are notoriously responsible for decimating Chinese forests. So, you know, pretty cool of them to take that measure.
The menu is huge. There’s the obvious pho and vermicelli dishes, along with udon noodle soups, broken rice dishes and a sizeable vegetarian section. There’s also a small “family style” section of the menu that includes larger, a la carte portions of some of the more popular dishes like catfish stew and salt and pepper shrimp (both $13). There’s no alcohol served, but plenty of other drinks like Thai tea ($3.25), coconut juice ($2.75) and smoothies made with sugar, milk, condensed milk and fruit ($4.25).
On my most recent visit, I knew I had to try the avocado smoothie—I’d never had one before, and it just sounded so intriguing. “Oh, that tastes like an avocado smoothie,” I said after my first sip. I don’t know what I was expecting but yeah, it tastes a lot like avocado. The addition of the condensed milk makes it creamy and sweet, but not overpoweringly so. Matie got the coconut juice, which is definitely for coconut lovers only. It’s not sweetened much, but is super refreshing on a warm day.
This did happen to be a warm day, so I couldn’t quite bring myself to order soup. I instead went for the spicy lemongrass with tofu and jasmine rice ($7.50). The portion was quite generous, especially for the price—a leftovers situation for sure. The stir-fry of tofu, onions, celery and green peppers was tasty but could have had more lemongrass in the mix for my taste. I also think that the fried tofu could have used a batter to add some crispiness into the mix. With some of the house chili sauce on top, though, I was happy.
Me and Matie also shared the spring rolls with tofu ($3.50). The two rolls came with plenty of peanut sauce for dipping (which, let’s be real, is 90 percent of the point of ordering spring rolls) and were filled with firm tofu that was clearly baked in a soy marinade—a nice departure from the plain, raw tofu I was expecting.
Matie didn’t share my hang ups about soup in warm weather, and ordered the combination beef soup ($8.50), which comes with rare steak, well done steak, meatballs, tendon and tripe. We agreed that the meatballs were salty and substantial, and that the steak didn’t all taste the same—there really was some rare and some well done. Piled high with the typical side plate of bean sprouts, basil, cilantro and lime, then hit with some soy and some chili sauce, the complexity of the broth came out.
On a separate occasion I visited Viet’s Pho for lunch at 2pm on a weekday, and was surprised that the place was still fairly full. This place’s reputation has clearly preceded it. Despite the crowd I was seated immediately.
I ordered the Thai tea and the vegetarian egg roll rice noodle bowl ($7.50). My server made sure that I was OK with peanuts on top of the noodles, which is an allergy awareness I don’t take for granted. The Thai tea was not as sticky sweet as I find it to be in many restaurants, and it did a good job of cooling out the palate after I loaded a ton of chili sauce onto my noodles. The noodles themselves were fairly bland, but the sliced up egg rolls on top hit all the right salty-savory notes—slivered cabbage and mushrooms inside made them taste meaty and earthy. I could have wished for more veggies in the noodles themselves, or else for the side plate of fresh veg and herbs, as they were pretty bare.
Both times I visited Viet’s Pho, one of the managers stopped at my table to chat and ask me how everything was. Perhaps some of their immense care and hospitality is just because they’re still fairly new and want to make as good an impression as they can. But I also get the sense that these folks who worked at one restaurant for 11 years are grateful and excited to finally be in charge of their own. The regular customers who followed them over seem to feel the same way.
4208 Menual Blvd. SE
Hours: Mon-Sun 10am-9pm
Alibi Recommends: Avocado smoothie, beef combination soup
Vibe: Very friendly, neighborhood-ish, family-oriented