2719 Nicollet Ave. S.
Is there a recovery program for pho fanciers? If so, don’t turn me in. I prefer to go through life addicted to this Vietnamese meal-in-a-soup-bowl (pronounced “fuh”), served every morning (and afternoon for hardcore diners) from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Just call me Miss Saigon.
Pho is rightfully the star of the menu at Quang, a 25-year mainstay of Eat Street.
In fact, it’s probably the main reason they’ve had to expand their parking lot.
Noondays, if you’re lucky enough to snag a table, you’ll be surrounded by devotees of Asian heritage who merely have to say “the usual” to find an order sending its fragrance their way in mere minutes.
Best-seller is No. 503, pho thap cam ($7.50), aka “the works”: roast beef in paper-thin slices mingling with chunkier beef brisket, a couple of sturdy, well-seasoned meatballs, chewier tendon strands of ivory hue, and tripe (don’t ask; just go ahead and eat it). They’re all piled onto a mountain of flat, ivory rice noodles mined with emerald bits of fresh cilantro. The whole concoction then springs to life with a generous ladle of well-seasoned beef broth, dancing with tiny bubbles of fat and sweetened with ginger and basil (phos $7 range—enough to take home for tomorrow’s lunch).
Then it’s your job to get creative and load in the fresh fixings served on the side: a mountain of bean sprouts to contribute crispness; a lusty frond of basil to rip into snippets; a tangy wedge of lime to temper the concoction; and a cross-section of a jalapeno pepper to bring things to a boil. On the table sits a family-size jug of hot chili sauce as well as fish sauce and soy sauce, if you choose. Pull out a soup spoon and pair of chopsticks and get ready for nirvana, Vietnamese style.
At Quang, the crowd is composed mostly of Asians (a good sign)—a lively mix of professionals conducting business meetings; their blue-collar counterparts on noontime break; gaggles of young ladies plying chopsticks; and kids, avidly devouring their broccoli, on the laps of parents ensconced in exuberant family parties. There was even a Norwegian couple (my guess) at the next table, who had presumed, to their dismay, that what they thought to be a sweet green pepper was in truth that jalapeno. They haven’t come up for air.
On a recent visit, I ventured beyond the pho, that soup-kettle staple, and tried No. 502, Tieu Mem. Loved it, too. This tureen brims with pearly little shrimp, ruby-lipped leaves of pork, sliced ever so thinly, and golf ball-sized pork meatballs so finely textured they almost dissolve in your mouth. They bob amid a zesty broth and tangle of rice noodles, to which to add your own bean sprouts, jalapenos for the hardy, and squeeze of lime.
We’d begun our meal with a pair of fresh spring rolls ($3.50), as plump as you please, binding bits of shrimp, pork and crunchy veggies with tendrils of translucent noodles in their see-through wrapper. Dip them into the mellow hoisin sauce and smile.
And, this time, we also ordered one of Quang’s stir-fries—a mountain of glistening veggies worthy of a Dutch Masters painting, abetted by the protein of your choice and a side of rice. ($7 range, and again, enough for tomorrow’s lunch).
You won’t need dessert (Do we ever?), but temptations abound, in the form of a black-eyed pea pudding served with sweet rice and coconut cream; a caramel flan, Quang style; a refreshing melange of mixed fruit (longans, red dates, golden raisins) served over shaved ice, and more ($2-3.50). My own idea of the perfect finale is a glass of iced Vietnamese coffee, made creamy with condensed milk, as the French concocted back when they ruled the tropical land. Or choose bubble tea, or fresh-sueezed limeade, mandarin juice, coconut juice, and the list goes on.
Décor isn’t the strong point—a sunny, clean, but bare-bones sea of Formica-topped booths and tables facing Nicollet Avenue. But service is.