At Pho Is For Lovers, Wishing Meatless Monday Was Pork Banh Mi Tuesday

When it comes to pho, that glorious Vietnamese noodle soup perfect for curing hangovers and head colds, I'm almost religiously devoted to the huge steaming bowls served up at Vietnam Restaurant on Bryan Street. However, when I heard that the semi-recently opened Pho is for Lovers on Upper Greenville served vegan pho, I felt obligated to check it out for Meatless Monday.

The interior of the restaurant reminded me of all those newfangled self-serve fro-yo places -- minimalist Ikea style, with hot pink chairs, small white tables and light fixtures that resembled upside-down fish bowls suspended from the ceiling. The space is tiny, with room for maybe 25 patrons max.

There are more vegetarian and even vegan options than at most Vietnamese restaurants, with meatless choices available in every category. I relayed my order to the friendly counterperson, and not 90 seconds later, a smiling Asian woman walked out from the kitchen and placed in front of me a small plate of basil, bean sprouts and lime wedges, and a large white bowl, steam rising from its surface. Thick slices of carrot and what I assumed to be daikon were thoughtfully cut into flower shapes, floating along with mushrooms, chunks of tofu and a plethora of scallions and cilantro.

I picked up my spoon and took a tentative taste of the broth -- the pale liquid was surprisingly flavorful, with a nice clean flavor that oddly enough wasn't too far removed from that of regular beef-based pho, just less intense and a touch sweeter. The vegetables were cooked just right, tender but still offering a bit of resistance to the tooth, and beautifully vibrant in color, but they were all equally bland, tasting like they'd been cooked in nothing but plain H20. The rice noodles suffered from the same fate, cooked al dente but utterly flavorless.

I discovered that I still hate tofu -- the bouncy, spongy texture creeps me out, and at least in this context it was completely devoid of any taste. Not even a metric shit ton of Sriracha sauce could rescue this soup from the depths of blandness. I slurped up most of the broth and hightailed it out of there, wishing I'd ordered the tasty-looking Korean BBQ banh mi instead (and feeling only slightly guilty for that).

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