By Ashley Bennett
A wave of sickness has rapidly spread through the IE, infecting everyone in its wake. It has completed its course but a few weeks ago, everyone I knew seemed to be sick—and I was not immune. Once the tell-tale signs of illness began to affect me, it was clear that a bowl of soup was necessary to help ease the fever and ache. Not just any soup though, but pho (sounds like the “fuh” in fudge). Your run-of-the-mill chicken noodle soup just doesn’t have the strength. I’m not going to claim that Pho Ha’s soup has healing powers but I recovered from my illness at a rapid pace following my visit to Pho Ha. Coincidence? Well there’s no way you can reject a steaming, soul-warming bowl of pho from a restaurant that’s perfected the soup after 23 years of business.
Pho is always the highlight at Vietnamese restaurants (I mean, how can we not expect to have pho at a restaurant with “pho” in the name?) but Pho Ha makes sure that there are other taste-worthy choices to entice diners. The sticky, rice paper-wrapped Fresh Spring Rolls are loaded with crunchy lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, rice and a single cocktail shrimp. It’s healthy on its own but using the side of peanut sauce gives it an extra addition in flavor with a satisfying crunch at the core. Pho Ha’s Crispy Egg Rolls are also a popular choice. The egg rolls, familiarly deep-fried and perfectly golden, comes complete with tasty tidbits of chicken, pork and veggies. The side of chili fish sauce adds a great spike of flavor as it lightly wets the otherwise crunchy exterior. Wash it all down with a soothing Vietnamese Iced Coffee or livening Kumquat Limeade (a sweet and refreshing, thirst-quenching drink). Especially when it can pleasantly distract you from time spent waiting for your main entree.
Sooner or later though, it will come down to the pho. The signature Beef Noodle Soup becomes the center point of my meal as I let the tender brisket slices cook within the heated mixture for a while. Pho Ha fills makes its soup with plenty of sodium-rich broth, leaving each spoonful loaded with a sensible amount of salt which soaks and infuses the brisket until it enters my mouth; at which point the tender meat almost melts instantly along with the delicate, broth-infused noodles that I eventually captured with my mediocre chopstick skills.
A single bowl of pho is difficult to take down by yourself but if you’re in need of a little cooling down from that warm bowl of comfort, try the refreshing Vietnamese Fruit Dessert. Picture a chilled glass of iced-tea with a handful of different ingredients soaking up the subtle tea flavor: tiny sliced strips of seaweed, crunchy water lily root, juice-infused dried longan, a Chinese apple and some sort of grain that accumulates at the bottom. It’s probably by far the most unique desserts I’ve ever tasted (and one of the most difficult to describe). Most of the flavor comes from ubiquitous presence of tea throughout the glass but each ingredient adds a unique texture. Pho might be more suitable for colder weather dining but this one would be ideal on an inevitably hot summer day.
I still reserve the right to believe that pho saved me from weeks of achy pain and sniffles. Even if a bowl of pho a day won’t keep the sick away, I’ll keep going back for that warm delicious soup.
Pho Ha Vietnamese Restaurant, 395 Indian Hill Blvd., (909) 622-7578. Sun-Thurs, 8am-9pm. Fri-Sat, 8am-9:30pm.