…how a Jewish Food Fair turns into a casual lunch at Pho Que Huong.

Last Sunday, I had every intention to enjoy knishes and matzo ball soup at a Jewish Food Fair held at a local Temple Emanu-El. But something happened as I entered into a crowded hall, lined with tables that held egg-brushed challah bread, sliced brisket, pastrami sandwiches and freshly baked sweets. I walked around, through the crowd of hungry individuals, and decided that I was craving something else – plus there wasn’t a knish to be seen. And so, I turned and left the synagogue.

Where to for lunch? It was a beautiful sunny and warm Sunday afternoon, and I thought it’d be a perfect chance to go for a drive to a restaurant that I have been wanting to try for a few weeks. Why Pho Que Huong? Simple – after two months in Birmingham, I was craving something other than grits, bbq, and biscuits. And a light, flavorful, and inexpensive Vietnamese cuisine would do a trick, or so I hoped.

The menu was pretty standard – a wide selection of pho, noodle soups, noodle bowls, and traditional Vietnamese sandwiches made with french baguettes and sliced pork. Since this was my first time at the restaurant, I decided to go the traditional route – spring rolls, pho, and a Vietnamese iced coffee.

The spring roll – an upsetting disappointment – it had me seriously worried that the rest of the meal would only get worse. The rice paper was thick and chewy, not transparent and light like it needs to be. And the filling wasn’t much better. It seemed that instead of flavorful pork or shrimp and crisp vegetables, this spring roll was filled with noodles and lettuce. The dipping sauce helped slightly, but not enough to save this roll. Word of advice – skip the spring roll on your visit!

And then the pho arrived. Accessorized with fresh basil, lime wedges, and sprouts, the bowl of pho was sweetly perfumed. The key to good pho, in my opinion, is a clear, flavorful broth that is perfectly balanced with the addition of freshly squeezed lime, torn basil leaves and a touch of hot chili sauce. The slices of flank steak and rice noodles are a nice addition – the steak in my bowl was perfectly tender and lean, the noodles twirled just right around the chopsticks. The verdict – one good bowl of pho!

The ending to the meal? A healthy doze of caffeine – a traditional iced Vietnamese Coffee. The set up – a glass of ice, a shorter glass with condensed sweet milk on the bottom and a dripping coffee on top. You have to patiently wait until the coffee has finished dripping, then stir the coffee with the condensed milk and pour over a glass of ice. The end result? Perfection.

I will happily return to Pho Que Huong and hope you will too.