Pho Linh's inauspicious location down a bit on the Central strip makes it less noticeable than Thai Orchid or May Café, but well worth the extra trot.
I dined here on a Thursday night, and I was immediately impressed with the contemporary look and feel of the place. The walls were a beautiful burnt orange and textured sky blue, and the lamps were ingeniously styled to look like those neat little Vietnamese straw hats.
The service was swift, and I gleefully practiced the first rule of eating at a Vietnamese restaurant: ordering a real coconut milkshake. My choices were quite exotic; they have shakes with avocado, jack fruit (a yellow-green pulpy fruit, similar in taste to a banana), pineapple and durian (a big, spiny fruit whose seeds taste like vanilla). The milkshakes are also quite inexpensive, because $2.50 for a huge shake is a delicious bargain. My shake was thick and rich with honest-to-God coconut milk and cream, and my enthusiastic raving may have inspired a few more shake orders from the surrounding diners.
The appetizer menu was long and strong, and included some never-before-tried delicacies like grilled shrimp paste wrapped in sugar cane ($5), papaya salad with beef jerky ($5.95) and fresh spring rolls with steamed pork and shrimp served with spicy peanut sauce ($2.75). The spring rolls were fragrant with fresh mint, and the sauce was loaded with crunchy chopped peanuts and chiles.
My enthusiastic compliments were rewarded with a free sample plate of the fried “Central of Vietnam” spring rolls, served with a sweet and savory fish sauce garnished with pickled carrots—a perennial favorite of mine. I also had to try the house special lemon grass beef ball: a lemony homemade ground-beef ball, cut into fourths and served with big, crispy shrimp crackers.
The main specialty of the house is the seven courses of beef ($27), which serves two people and starts off with a big garnish plate of bean sprouts, sweet basil, jalapeños, green apples, cucumber, pickled carrot and radish. The seven courses follow one after the other, and include some more interesting selections, such as loaf leaf beef, beef fondue (served tableside) and a grilled beef roll covered with pickled leeks.
In addition to the beef-tastic features, the seemingly endless menu is a roster of Vietnamese classic dishes: beef, chicken, pork or seafood noodle soup ($6.25), rice vermicelli bowls ($6.50) and a gigantic selection of vegetarian items like tofu with pineapple and tomato ($7.95) and hot sweet-and-sour soup ($8).
Vietnamese soup is a very serious thing, and not for the weak of appetite. When you order a soup, you get an enormous, steaming bowl of broth filled with chunks of meat or seafood, broth, noodles, vegetables, cilantro and a side plate of add-your-own bean sprouts, fresh basil, sliced jalapeños and limes to squeeze.
I was so busy trying to find extra unoccupied sections of my stomach to fill that I barely noticed the funny elevator music until the end. You haven't really lived until you've heard Sting, The Godfather theme and that song from Cats played on a pan flute. But the real question of the night was … how much beef can one girl eat in one sitting? Well, I must apologize to the two-and-a-half cows that sacrificed their lives so that I could leave with a full tummy. Can you think of seven ways to do beef? I can, but two of them are illegal in all 50 states. Leave it to the pros at Pho Linh—they'll help you get your beef on.
Fresh coconut or avocado shake
Golden crispy squid with butter sauce
Seven courses of beef
Seafood noodle soup
Ginger tofu with mixed vegetables
Pho Linh Vietnamese Grill; 5000 Central, 266-3368; Hours: 10:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.-Sun. and 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. Closed Wednesdays. Price Range: Inexpensive to moderate. No smoking; major credit cards accepted.