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By Eating Our Words
While I wasn't inclined to take offense at the silverware situation, it did raise an interesting discussion over our lunch: At what point will Houstonians finally admit — en masse — that Vietnamese food is now no more of a novelty ethnic food here than Tex-Mex is? When telling a friend visiting from Indiana recently where to eat in Houston, my suggestion was this: "You have to eat the four basic food groups while you're here: burgers, barbecue, Tex-Mex and Vietnamese."
He countered, "Vietnamese isn't Texan." Maybe not Texan, I agreed, but I would argue that pho and banh mi have been absorbed fully and holistically into the heart of Houston's cuisine over the last 20 years.
That said, it's a little surprising that Pho Ga Dakao is the only restaurant in town that caters to the ravenous hordes of pho ga lovers that flock to the restaurant like people making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Chicken Soup. Pho ga has been steadily regaining its popularity over the years, previously only an afterthought to its more well-known sister soup, pho bo (beef pho). The pho ga at Pho Ga Dakao is a shining example of why it's becoming popular again: a rich, chicken-saturated broth that's both fatty and cleanly herbaceous at the same time, filled with all the best parts of the chicken: hearts, tripe, gizzards, livers and — as my friend Dr. Ricky pointed out one day — "the immature eggs found inside the slaughtered hen." I thought, incorrectly, that they were hard-boiled egg yolks. "Quite a delicacy," Ricky said.
11778 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072
Region: Outer Loop - SW
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Vietnamese spring roll: $4.95
Sweet rice with chicken and Chinese sausage: $5.95
Dakao chicken rice noodle soup special: $6.25
Chicken rice noodle soup with dark meat: $5.75
Dakao chicken rice special: $6.95
Hot coffee with condensed milk: $2
Hot tea pot: $1.50
11778 Bellaire, suite C, 281-879-5899.
"I love how green-tasting the broth is," muttered Witt as she spent a few minutes enjoying her undoctored bowl of "Dakao chicken rice noodle soup special," as the menu calls the pho ga with everything. "You can really taste the fresh herbs." And then, after the appreciation period had passed, in went dashes of hot sauce, squeezes of lime and all the other little individualized doctoring routines that pho lovers establish over the years. The bowl was gone in no time.
Looking at her enjoying her bowl across the table, I was a little sad that I'd branched out and ordered the Dakao chicken rice special. It was good — and I was brought three huge plates of food for only $6.95, including a chicken liver-and-cabbage-based salad dressed with ginger, lime and crushed peanuts that I could have happily eaten as a main course — but the pho ga and its savory broth were too distracting. I stole bite after bite out of Witt's bowl as she just smiled at me, a sympathetic look of understanding on her face.
Gotta say.......been out of the loop for a while. WTF---you are BFF with Rob Walsh? Is that why Jason, john, who ever the f*ck he was was kicked out??? I liked his articles....but a few small people did not....makes ya go ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm?
Sorry, but Jason Kerr's reviews tended to be terrilble. He's just not a good writer, and not good at describing food and eating the way you have to be in order to be a food writer.
That said, this article was a little thin. Might have deserved a blog post more than a full restaurant review.
Jason Kerr kindly filled in during the interim period between when Robb left and I was hired. I was previously the web editor here at the Houston Press before moving into the food critic position, making Robb my former coworker and, yes, friend.
Nothing like a bunch of college frat boys (or sorority girls) with free time on their hands. Keep them coming Katharine.
Classy reponse, KS, to a crude comment.I, for one, am delighted when you and Robb W. dine out together. When the two best food critics in Houston descend on any food spot, then the readers are going to get some good information.
"Vietnamese food is now no more of a novelty ethnic food than Tex Mex"
I'm sorry. Vietnamese food is still a novelty ethnic food, especially compared to something like Chinese food, when the majority of Houstonians can not differentiate dishes between the two cuisines. Too many instances of people ordering a Chinese dish at a Vietnamese restaurant and then feeling disappointed at the food.
Order the special and ask for dry to have soup on the side, with fried shallots and a speical sauce in a seperate bowl with the noodles. Another way to enjoy Cindy's incredible place.
This place was incredible. The pho ga dac biet, those sticky rice cakes (really missed them since Mai's burned down), and the cafe sua da - all just great.