Pho Bang and I have a sliding doors sort of relationship. My mom tells me I ate there with her as a permed tot, but of course I don't remember that. (The perm part is more of an intentional denial.) When I moved back to Dallas a few years ago, I would make concerted efforts to drive to Garland all times of the day and week to try what many view, arguably, as the best pho in Dallas, only to be met with a "closed" sign or a fire department sign, or a "we're renovating" sign.
I eventually gave up on the place, double-flip-off and all. So it would only make sense that on a parched inferno of a night, when pho was the last thing I wanted, I drove past to find the red light of Pho Bang's "open" sign illuminated.
The interior has been updated (not by much), as my mom, the time machine, noted when we walked inside. The restaurant wasn't filled with the familiar perfume-y scents of spices that inhabit most pho places. Service was strange. One man took a seat and was handed a menu seconds before another server pounced on him for his order. My request for an empty bowl was met with a quiet stare. I asked the boss what kind of pork they used in their bun thit nuong, the grilled pork vermicelli dish; the question was met with a general gesturing of his torso. "That part."
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After trying a bowl of the pho dac biet, a combo beef pho, I can see why Pho Bang's version would be so polarizing. There are fewer spices, and someone who prefers their pho southern-style - - sweet and heavy with star anise, cardamom, coriander, and cloves -- might be disappointed. But this isn't pure northern pho, either. It was a combination of the two worlds, an Americanized northern Vietnamese pho, if you will -- a nice hint of all the spices, but the taste of the beef still found in the broth. Velvety and full of flavor, the brisket in the pho stood out, and for $5 a small bowl, the noodle soup came with a generous amount of meat.
As for the bun thit nuong, despite the confusion, I'm pretty sure the pork used for the $6.25 dish was pork shoulder. The soy-based marinade for the pork was just on pitch, not too salty nor bland. The pork shoulder's lean meat balanced well with the slightest marbling of fat, rendering surprisingly tender bites.
I'm still waiting for the great hope of an affordable "constant," a reliable Pho shop to return to on a regular basis. Is this asking for too much of Dallas? I'm not alone, apparently. I visited Garland's well-known Vietnamese sandwich shop, Ba Le was, and asked what he recommended for a good dinner in the neighborhood. "I go home and cook for myself," he said.
Pho Bang 3565 W Walnut St Ste A Garland, TX 75042