Pho is for Lovers. I'm still on the fence about that name. Given the restaurant's location at Lovers Lane and Greenville Avenue, it's clever and cute. On the other hand, I normally associate pho with Vietnamese mothers, nasty rhinovirus infections and hangovers. Most people to whom I've spoken about this new restaurant like the name, like the concept and like the location. The food? Well, it's a mixed bag.
The setup at Pho is for Lovers is that of a fast-food joint. It's a quaint idea, but when has ordering at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant not been quick? At any average pho restaurant, the elapsed time of sitting down, getting a menu, placing an order and having food arrive is well below the seven-minute mark. So then, how does Pho is for Lovers set itself apart in the "fast-food" department?
The short menu is on a blackboard behind the counter where orders are placed. There's also a selection of egg rolls and "summer" rolls from which to choose on the counter. The drinks fountain is self-service. Similar to that of the nearby Korean-themed b.b.bop, the food is staggered out to your table once it is ready.
All the dishes are presented in paper, plastic or Styrofoam packaging, regardless of whether the food is for dining in or to go. Therein lies my problem with Pho is for Lovers. Ideally, pho shouldn't be eaten out of a smallish flimsy plastic bowl. Although the $6.50-$6.95 per bowl of pho is reasonable, can the restaurant not spring for the noodle soup to be served in a proper bowl? There's hardly enough room for all the noodles, meat and broth, never mind adding bean sprouts and herbs. After all, a great pho requires extremely hot broth and a high wet-to-dry ratio, but that can't be achieved in the way Pho is for Lovers serves this dish.
Aside from the packaging issue, the pho had other problems the day of my visit. The noodles were short, broken and undercooked. Proper rice noodles shouldn't be mushy, but they should be on the chewier side. These were stiff, not chewy. It's unfortunate because the broth was decent and clean-flavored. To be fair, the restaurant only recently opened. It could have been an off day, and these problems can be easily fixed.
It's kind of peculiar that although the word "pho" is in the restaurant's handle, it only accounts for 10 percent of the menu. There's only two types offered -- beef and chicken. I sampled the beef, but I'm curious to return and find out what the restaurant means by the atypical addition of "grilled" chicken in its pho. The rest of the menu consists of Vietnamese banh mi, vermicelli noodles, rice plates and tacos.
Out of everything sampled, what stood out the most was the restaurant's grilled pork. In both the Korean barbecue banh mi and the grilled pork rice plate, the charred meat was juicy and nicely seasoned. Some pieces may have received a tad more salt than others, but overall I wouldn't mind scoring their marinade recipe.
The meat in the banh mi stood out so well that it really didn't need to be drowned in so much mayonnaise and gojuchang sauce. For those who like their banh mi on the dryer side, perhaps the traditional Vietnamese grilled pork is more the way to go. With all this talk about the meat, it'd be neglectful of me to not mention the other main component that makes Lovers' banh mi so great: the wonderfully crunchy, airy baguette. An employee at the restaurant mentioned that their bread is delivered everyday from a bakery in Garland, but a little birdie clarified to me that the bakery is none other than Quoc Bao. Mm-hmm.
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As for other items, in-house made summer rolls, a.k.a spring rolls, have a nice bouncy and chewy consistency, but the accompanying peanut sauce could have used more of a stronger, nuttier punch and less of a bizarre aftertaste. Egg rolls are fine and are a nice touch with the rice plates.
The prices are consistent with Pho is for Lovers' locale, and with everything priced between the $1-$7.50 mark, the restaurant should be a hit with the kids in no time.
As for the concept -- the proximity to SMU, fast food, Vietnamese, etc. -- I get it. Still, I can't help but think that it's a nice little restaurant, and maybe pho isn't cut out for the fast food treatment quite yet. Can't we please have some proper bowls?
Pho is for Lovers 5521 Greenville Ave. Ste. 105 75206 972-708-1028