As you may know from some of our prior posts, we love Vietnamese food. Mr Foodie and I spent several weeks in Vietnam right before we moved to Alabama in 2011. In Philly, we lived in Passyunk Square, a neighborhood home to the two most famous (but not the best) cheesesteak places in town, a vibrant Hispanic community that gives rise to some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, and, Little Saigon. Within 5 blocks of our house, we had access to some of the most delicious (and inexpensive) Vietnamese food I’ve had in the U.S. or in Vietnam.
Mr Foodie and I have been searching for something comparable here with no success. Until last week, when I received an excellent tip from trusted foodie friends. A friend of theirs had posted about a new Vietnamese place on his Facebook page, Pho 280, that had its grand opening that day. We immediately made plans to check it out that Wednesday with said friends.
However: that night, we went to yet another fabulous Alloy Thai pop up. As it turned out, we knew almost everyone there (this town is small, I tell you). When I mentioned the new Vietnamese restaurant, everyone insisted on trying it out the following day. We couldn’t resist.
Pho 280 is in the strip mall where Chuck’s Fish and Bay Leaf are located (5426 Highway 280 for those of you who like addresses; 10 minutes past Target if you are coming from the Summit). A bright neon sign (which naturally we forgot to photograph) draws you in.
The service is very friendly. We were seated immediately at a large table in the front and given the menu:
For those with less experience eating Vietnamese food, one suggestion to organize your ordering. In terms of main courses, their menu is fairly focused and is divided up into three main sections: soups (including pho), vermicelli bowls (bun), and rice dishes (com). Since pho and bun are pretty much staples, we figured ordering them would help us judge the place. These pictures are a combo of shots from Sunday and Wednesday.
First, we did try an appetizer. Chicken wings. These were hacked up into little pieces and deep fried. Incredibly juicy, I was literally sucking on the bones. Fantastic.
Then the bun. I ordered B4 – pork and spring rolls – and added shrimp. This is the best bun in town, no question. What makes it stand out is: 1) ample pickled veggies 2) ample meat and other toppings making for an ideal ratio of rice noodles to the goodies, and 3) the quality of the toppings. The spring rolls were perfectly crispy and crunchy, the pork was tender and flavorful, and the shrimp was cooked perfectly and was grilled in a light sauce that made it mesh perfectly with the pork. Add some fish sauce and it’s the perfect comfort food. Aaaah.
Finally, the pho. We’ve had some decent pho in this town but, what I’ve been looking for is more like what I’ve had in Philly and Vietnam. When you put your face over top of a steaming bowl of great pho, it should smell like a mixture of spices, often including star anise, and sometimes cinnamon. It’s served with a huge plate of herbs, typically including basil and mint, and also bean sprouts, limes, and hot peppers. These are added by the soup’s consumer to taste (which in our case means adding all the herbs; I like letting all the peppers sit in there for awhile, but Mr Foodie likes adding 2 peppers and then removing them to minimize the spice). If you order lean steak pho (P2 on Pho 280’s menu), it comes rare and cooks in the soup. This means it is rarely overcooked.
This pho met all of our expectations. Very aromatic, lots of fresh herbs and limes, great steak. When available, it seems like they offer both basil and mint. Mr Foodie was especially excited about this because other places tend to skimp on the herbs, whereas in Vietnam a variety of fresh herbs is a marker of quality. Another successful comfort food dish, perfect for the chilly weather we’re having.
Several times during the meal, the staff came over to check on us. They were so excited to see that we were so excited. We also learned a little more about the owner, who is from Vietnam and has worked in other Vietnamese restaurants before striking out on his own. (280 living actually wrote an article about him a few weeks ago, which you can find here). He has gone back and forth between living in Vietnam (near Saigon) and the U.S. during his adult life, until he moved back to Bham a few years ago. His goal in opening Pho 280 was to bring authentic Vietnamese cooking to Bham-a goal he has already accomplished in spades during his first week in business.