Call this the tale of The Two Phos.
A few days ago, I arrived back in Dallas from my month long sojourn in Asia. As my poor neglected boyfriend picked me up from DFW's international terminal, his first sentiment was how much he missed me. His second was that he was starving. Before he even said for what he was craving, I had a sick feeling that I already knew.
"Pho," my boyfriend beamed at me.
A sick thought crossed my mind that somehow a Mr. Dave Faries had gotten a hold of my boyfriend just to play a mean joke on me. Luckily for my editor, my boyfriend explained, "I can't help it. I've been reading all of your articles about pho, and I've been wanting it so bad!"
As we drove back towards our abode in Dallas, I asked him where he wanted to go. He decided upon Pho Chau because it's the closest to our apartment.
Sitting near I-35 on West Mockingbird, this restaurant has the luxury of being next to Medical District, so it sees its fair share of lunch crowds. Like other establishments in the area, Pho Chau is not much to look at, just a simple mom and pop shop in a worn out shopping strip. Having eaten here before, I decided to go my friend Hoa's route and not order, allowing my boyfriend to be my guinea pig. Prices at Pho Chau are cheap, relatively speaking in regards to Dallas norms. A small bowl of pho will cost you $5.50 and large bowl runs around $7.00.
We arrived to a still empty dining room, it only being 11 am, not quite lunch rush time. Sitting at a corner table, my boyfriend ordered his carnivorous usual, Pho Dac Biet. Looking around the restaurant, I noticed not one Asian employee in the restaurant. From the waitresses to the kitchen staff, everyone was Hispanic. Bad sign.
Please hold your nasty comments for my explanation.
Would you trust a taqueria if you walked up and saw me and four of my crazy Vietnamese aunts assembling tacos? Ok, then.
When the pho finally arrived, I asked my boyfriend if I could sample a sip of broth before he started his devouring. Taking a small taste, an overwhelming sweetness coated my mouth. The kitchen had forgotten to season the broth with fish sauce and salt. What was left tasted like sweetened hot tea.
After waiting twenty minutes for the owner, a Vietnamese gentleman, to arrive, he too tasted the broth (in the kitchen, of course) and confirmed that indeed his cooks had forgotten to add salting seasonings. Good thing we were the first customers of the day.
The revised bowl of pho that my poor boyfriend ended up with tasted like sweet tea with fish sauce added to it.
Which brings me to the tale of pho #2.
At my first meeting with Editor Dave since I had gotten back from Vietnam, he decided that I should try out the new pho menu addition at Lumi, the hip Vietnamese slash Brazilian restaurant on McKinney. Unbeknownst to Dave, Susie Bui, part owner and manager of Lumi, is a buddy of mine. More importantly, I had already turned down her incessant haggling for me to come in and try the new pho, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Dave sent me out to Lumi, anyway, reminding me that I better be honest in my assessment. Thanks.
With equal parts skepticism and trepidation, I visited Lumi on a crisp Saturday afternoon. I'm not particularly a huge fan of fusion, especially when it comes to Asian food, but if Lumi can pull off an amazing Banh Mi Thit Panini (Vietnamese sub style sandwich with grilled pork), then anything is possible.
As usual, the ever hardworking Susie greeted me and nervously asked if I was there to try the pho. I order a Pho Bo, beef pho. Susie noted that her favorite is actually their Pho Ga, the chicken pho. However, as you City of Ate readers know by now, I like my beef. When the pho arrived, in the meticulous and beautiful enormous white bowl, the broth was so clear and void of any glimmer of fat, prompting me to ask Susie, incredulously, "What kind of broth is this? Is this beef broth?"
She nodded earnestly, replying, "It's beef broth. It's my mom's recipe."
After taking a few bites of Lumi's pho, I pay Susie the highest compliment that could come to my mind, "It tastes homemade. It kind of reminds me of my mom's."
And I really meant it, too. The southern Vietnamese style is evident, but it's neither too sweet nor too salty. And the meatballs, oh goodness, the meatballs are good. The only tiffs I had with the pho, however, were the overdone pieces of flank and the lack of beefiness in the broth. The former I attribute to Lumi's concern for the tastes of their predominant clientele, a crowd that might not be too keen with seeing pink beef afloat rice noodles and soup. The latter part, however, is a bit tricky. Since beef broth can be fatty, if you want a clean healthy flavor some of the beef essence will be compromised.
So, why the tale of the Two Phos? The most significant thing that sets Lumi's pho apart from say, a Pho Chau, is the love behind the soup.
Pho, made correctly, is a dish that takes a lot of thought and care. Although a bowl of pho at Lumi will cost you $10-$12, I'd rather pay that uptown price for a bowl of homemade pho than pay $7 for something inedible and void of any attention to quality. I've had bowls of oatmeal in Uptown that have set me back eight bucks! As an example of how much care goes into Lumi's pho, it is only served on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons as a special.
If this isn't enough indication of the care put into their pho, as I sampled away, Susie giggled, gesturing to a grey haired, apron donning Vietnamese man standing in the kitchen, "My dad is peeking around the corner. He wants to know what you think."
Who would've thought there'd be a genuine mom and pop shop on Mckinney in Uptown Dallas?
1640 West Mockingbird Lane
Lumi Empanada and Dumpling Kitchen
3407 McKinney Ave.
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