It should be well known that one of the best things you can do for yourself is put your face over a steaming bowl of pho. Pho is clearly the spa of the gods: Rich broth (that fatty pork flavor that deepens as it's consumed); chiles that crackle and burn like rockets; sharp herbs that come in piles. Sing it like John Lennon: Happiness is a hot broth. In Dallas, where winter is like a flaky friend you’re trying to meet for a beer but who repeatedly cancels, Mot Hai Ba’s noodles and soups — especially from their new fall menu — are serious, genuine best friends for whatever season Texas decides to pump out there.
I’m at Mot Hai Ba on a Saturday, right as the sun’s down to relieve the humidity, with an ice-cold Tiger beer in front of me. I’m staring at the upside-down lamps bolted to the ceiling above the bar, which are just weird enough to induce a smile. The Lady Friend and I have the grilled duck hearts, chopped evenly over a Garden of Eden of fresh herbs and sprouts dressed with a vinegar mixture that sings. I order the com mam, a fumet of barramundi packed with winter squash, garlicky pork meatballs and shrimp, and I’m considering asking them to fill a keg with it for the road. It’s good. Really good. This is the soup you need.
Pho is the gateway drug at Mot Hai Ba, part of a collection of soups and noodles (and noodle soups) that are the food version of the best hug you’ve ever gotten in your life. There’s the bun bo hue, a spicy, beef-infused broth that could wisely be the first dish you present to visiting aliens. Garlic noodles are powerful and date-endingly good. The pho is dark magic.
Dallas isn’t short on these kinds of dreamy soups. Winter wonderland or not, you can always insane-cry — because of the joy, you see — into the clam chowder at 20 Feet Seafood Joint, punched up by black pepper and celery. Monkey King Noodle Co.’s spicy beef soup was sent here by Zeus, I’m pretty sure. The beautiful, scarlet pozole at Avila's is perfect to-go (make sure you get the condiments that come with it: lime, Mexican oregano, jalapeños and raw onions). Maybe throw in extra jalapeños. Of course, there's little chance of going wrong with Ten Ramen.
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Finishing up at Mot Hai Ba, all that’s left in the bowl is the rice, clinging to that fantastic broth. I toss in some bright herbs from the grilled duck hearts appetizer, which I’m still plucking at with my chopsticks, and it feels as though there’s no more bad in the world. For a few minutes, at least.