Love Hurts: I Luv Pho Puts Our Fondness for "Vietnamese" Food to the Test

There are the blogs I can't wait to write, and there are the blogs I put off until 4:30 on a Monday afternoon, tippy-toeing dangerously close to my deadline. This week's would be the latter.

After being repeatedly hounded by a friend to visit I Luv Pho in Las Colinas, I gave in last week. I Luv Pho is a restaurant I want to like. It's clean. The staff is friendly. There is a mixture of all types of people who eat at the restaurant. But the food, oh dear God, the food...

My friend who suggested the place for my blog loves it. My boyfriend, who once tried the restaurant with his friends, does not. Reading several diners' comments on the Internet, there are those who either worship the restaurant or those who absolutely detest it. Why the extremism? Without getting into a hypothesis that only would serve to getting me into deep "comments" trouble, I will say that I have my inklings. As a college student long ago, I worked in Las Colinas at one of the few restaurants in the area at the time. Today, because of the corporate and business growth in the area, it's a completely different landscape. There are several ethnic restaurants up and down MacArthur Boulevard, ranging from Indian to Japanese, accommodating the workers and families who have moved to the neighborhood. While some of the restaurants I've sampled in the area truly are commendable, others, like I Luv Pho, I feel are successful merely for the demand or necessity for a restaurant like it.

The catchy name and polished interior doesn't hurt. Weekday lunch time is a frenetic bustle, as my dining cohort and I experienced. Service was friendly, but there was that familiar Vietnamese restaurant rush for us to place our order. After taking a quick glance at the menu, we decided to order a bowl of pho dac biet, a bowl of bo kho and a banh mi thit.

The pho dac biet arrived first. Pho dac biet, or "special" pho, has every type of meat in it, from tripe to round-eye, and brisket to meatballs. For a pho that specializes in meat, I Luv Pho's version was lacking. When I'm paying between seven to eight dollars on a bowl of pho, there had better be heavy representation of a cow in that bowl. No joke, I counted one quarter of a meatball. The rest of the miserly pieces of meat were flavorless. After tasting the broth, I was reminded of why my boyfriend had not liked the restaurant. "It's so salty," he had told me. He wasn't kidding. It wasn't a fish-sauce salty, rather it was a saltwater type of salty. There was no depth of flavor, no seasoning and no spices. It literally tasted like salt and water.

Moving on to our bo kho, or Vietnamese beef stew, I could see that we were in trouble again. While bo kho traditionally is more watery than other stews, still it is a bad sign when there is no sight of beef. The stew was a watery, greasy and unseasoned mess. My fellow diner had to apologize to me for eating all of the beef, and this was only three-fourths our way into the bowl. With the bo kho, came a crusty French baguette, by far the highlight of our meal. We ordered a side of steamed rice with the stew, and while the heart-shaped presentation of the rice was cute, we were too disappointed with our meal to be amused.

The arrival of the Vietnamese grilled pork sandwich, banh mi thit, looked promising until we took our first bites. The meat was cooked perfectly, and the vegetables and pickles were plentiful, but all were ruined by an obnoxiously sweet and artificial Miracle Whip-like substance. While mayonnaise is a component of Vietnamese subs, this white and watery substance was not mayonnaise. The taste and consistency overwhelmed the whole baguette and rendered the sandwich inedible.

While I am happy that Vietnamese food continues to have a large and supportive following, it's upsetting that the restaurants which are most popular seem to cheat their supporters in quality. True to the name of the restaurant, people do love pho. And thanks to location and demand, I Luv Pho has capitalized on this adoration.

I Luv Pho 8350 N. Macarthur Blvd. Irving 972-402-9799

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