A false sense of déjà vu, a fine bowl of pho

by Brian Clarey

Iwas driving in Greensboro’s Pomona neighborhood on an errand when I passed Pho Vien Huong, a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant at the vanguard of the city’s formidable slate of southeast Asian eateries.

As I looked at it, I came to a realization: I had never been there. I know. Crazy, right? But while Pho Vien Huong certainly seems like the kind of place I have been to and enjoyed — even to myself, as I’m pretty sure I’ve told detailed stories about meals I’ve eaten there — it turned out I’d never set foot inside the place.

So I wheeled the car around and went inside. Pho Vien Huong does a brisk lunchtime crowd, with nearly every table and booth filled mostly with what seemed like office folk from the surrounding industrial parks, with a few lunch ladies and members of the city’s leisured underclass on hand as well. Thai and Vietnamese customers make up another strong portion of the demographic. That’s always a good sign at international eateries.

The menu here has more than 100 items on it: hot pots, rice dishes, pork, beef, fish, chicken, vegetarian options, three kinds of noodles and more. They have all the cool soft drinks too, soy drinks, salted lemonade and soda egg among them.

My Vietnamese coffee came out quickly, dripping from a small metal filter into a short glass with a generous layer of sweetened, condensed milk at the bottom. I could — and probably should — drink three or four of these things a day.

I let the coffee steep while I addressed my meal: a big bowl of pho with rice noodles, slices of roasted pork and big shrimp, to which I added plenty of fresh Thai basil, a fistful of bean sprouts and as much cilantro as I could pick off the stems, along with a squeeze of lemon and a swirl of Sriracha sauce. Inhaling deeply, I recognized the familiar scent of good pho.

I try to make pho at home, I really do — hitting the Asian market for sprouts, herbs and authentic bullion cubes. I slice the limes, I select the right noodles, I prep the veggies, I even swirl in the Sriracha just like I do at my favorite restaurants. But it never tastes the same as it does when I’m sitting at someone else’s table.

This is fantastic pho — a flavorful broth redolent of the fresh herbs steeped within, a savory mixture of shrimp and pork lending heft and balance, noodles cooked to just the right consistency. It’s the kind of thing I just can’t seem to duplicate in my kitchen.

This doesn’t mean I’ll ditch my pho joint for Pho Vien Huong — my regular stop is just a couple miles from my office, while Pomona is a 10- or 15-minute drive, and my usual stop brings me raw, sliced flank steak that I can dredge through the broth, cooking it in the hot water just a little bit.

But I’ll surely hit this place up whenever I’m hungry in Pomona, and I’m pretty sure I can talk them into bringing me some raw, red meat with my lunch.


Pho Vien Huong; 4109 Spring Garden St., Greensboro; 336.294.5551