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Vietnamese Venison

Thanh Phuong in Pearland is turning out some of the most exciting food, anywhere.

"My friends laughed at me," said Vu Nguyen with a chuckle as he answered Shepherd's many questions about the menu during that first meal. Nguyen runs the place along with his mother, who silently mans the kitchen, and was determined to put his own mark on the new menu. He's part of a new generation of ethnic food restaurateurs moving menus in a modern direction, even out in the suburbs.

Nguyen's friends said that no one would order his venison, rabbit, quail, boar, eel, mutton or alligator. But he didn't pay them any mind as he set about sourcing the best local providers of these meats. He gets the rabbit from a farm just down the road; he gets the quail when it's in season.

While there were concerns about the salability of the game meats (which are what attracted me in the first place), Nguyen has found that it's actually the pho — something almost taken for granted in southwest Houston and inside the Loop — that's proving less marketable to Pearlanders more accustomed to fried rice than noodle soup. He's slowly turning people on to pho, though; much of his success can be attributed to the long roasting and stewing times for the beef bones, as well as his insistence on using only Vietnamese herbs and spices.

Vietnamese-style deep-fried rabbit is only one of the delightful surprises on the menu at Thanh Phuong.
Theo Santos
Vietnamese-style deep-fried rabbit is only one of the delightful surprises on the menu at Thanh Phuong.

Location Info

Map

Thanh Phuong

3236 E. Broadway
Pearland, TX 77581

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Pearland

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Sundays.
Venison carpaccio: $12.95
Chargrilled pork chop clay pot: $10.95
Bun bo nuong: $7.95
Crispy fried rabbit: $14.95
"Shaking" venison: $12.95
Chicken wings with caramelized fish sauce: $9.95
Crème brûlée: $2.95


READ MORE
BLOG POST: Thanh Phuong's Got Good Game
SLIDESHOW: Adventurous Vietnamese: Hit the Road to Thanh Phuong in Pearland


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"Some people think you can use American stuff," he scoffed with a sly smile as he offered a sample bowl of his broth. It was intriguingly dark in the white bowl, an intoxicating mixture of beef fat and broth, anise and nutmeg. The surface was slick. The flavor stuck in the back of my throat, clinging richly to my tongue. I could only imagine what it would taste like fixed with fat purple basil leaves and bright coriander.

On my second trip to Thanh Phuong, I was pleased to find that the staff remembered me. The jovial, welcoming vibe is only further enhanced by their quirkiness and friendliness, although it turned out they mostly remembered me because I ordered so much food and because they were shocked to be serving white people who ordered Vietnamese dishes...and could pronounce them properly.

They're bound to remember me again, then, as I ordered just as much food this second time around. Our young waiter, who told us that he would be a stand-up comedian if he weren't studying neurology, bluntly told my group of four to move to a larger table because, "You guys ordered a buttload of food."

I ordered those chicken wings in caramelized fish sauce I'd admired from afar last time and wasn't disappointed, quickly crowning them my new favorite wings in town. The fish sauce had, indeed, been caramelized and released a sort of nutty sweetness out of the fermented stuff; all trace of briny or fishy flavor was entirely gone. It made for a sticky-sweet glaze on the wings that I couldn't get enough of, licking my fingers until every trace of it was gone.

Meanwhile, my dining companions were stone silent over their bowls of bun bo nuong — chargrilled beef over a messy tangle of vermicelli noodles — and clay pots of pork and rice. An entire pork chop lay across the top of the pot; underneath, the rice contained a wild array of carrots, peas, shallots, oyster mushrooms, diced sweet sausage and bits of fried egg. Across the table, another friend speared pieces of sautéed venison, the deer meat slicked lightly with oil from the wok that had seared it along with broad chunks of red bell peppers, onions and jalapeños. All were far too busy enjoying their food to discuss it.

And we once again ordered two pots of luscious crème brûlée to round out the meal.

I saw Chris Shepherd again at a Pilot Light dinner on a recent Saturday night. "Have you been back to Thanh Phuong?" he asked with a broad smile. "I'm going tomorrow for lunch."

"Oh yeah?" I asked. "And will you be working there after all?"

"Yep," he replied. "I've got it all worked out."

Shepherd plans to have several Vietnamese-influenced dishes on the menu at Underbelly when it opens within the next year, in a tribute to Houston's diverse and thriving ethnic food scene. So diverse and thriving, in fact, that Houston itself can't contain it all, making a drive to Thanh Phuong even more of an adventure.

I can only imagine how packed Thanh Phuong would be if it were any closer to the city. As it is, hidden away in old Pearland, it has all the potential to become a cult restaurant, the kind that inspires heady road trips and loving screeds on food blogs across the city, as well as inspiring a few chefs along the way.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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12 comments
Sahel Chen
Sahel Chen

Made the 20 mile, one way, trek last night. Worth every mile! The only thing, they dont normally serve the boar bo luc lac, they just happened to have that cut of meat that day. Got the venison carpaccio... swoon...a catfish claypot that I almost cried into, it was so good. I've been chasing a frozen ginger creme brulee that I had over 10 years ago, as the best dessert I've ever had... the simple creme brulee here, just amazing... outseated my lofty dream dessert. Headed back for lunch tomorrow.

Katherine, you didnt steer me wrong with Hogs and Chicks (I have an adoration for that place that veers on cultish... even though their sister restaurant, Aura, is awful... they couldnt even make beef carpaccio correctly) and you came through again here.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

I'm not sure I'll like the venison (I don't like gamey flavor), but your descriptions make me want to drive there, like, TODAY. Thank you so much for this review!!!

Kelli
Kelli

When it's cooler out, I gladly make the trek to Pho Binh Trailer at 8am on a Saturday to eat the wonderful pho.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Wow, that's as breathless a review as I've ever seen. And in the Pear Land of chains, yet.

PShuttlesworth
PShuttlesworth

If you think you have had Vietnamese food and it wasn't in Vietnam, then I can assure you that you have not! Thanh Phoung is off the charts authentic and mind blowingly delicious. The Mom is the cook and the son is front of house. She is magic in the kitchen and he tries to explain the magic - sometimes I don't want to know.......just let the magic happen to you!!! Worth a hundred times over coming to Pearland!!!

Iceman
Iceman

[drool] Must.make.trip.to.pearland. Can't Wait!

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

A 40 mile round trip? You are a trooper, my friend. So very glad it paid off and you enjoyed your meal. :)

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I have to say, I was shocked - especially in the carpaccio - at the utter lack of gamey flavor in the deer. It just tasted vaguely, subtly sweet; that's the best way I can think of to describe it. Quite a wonder.

csoakley
csoakley

I made a lunch trek to Pho Binh today. It seems to be closed until sometime in mid-August so I kept going south for the rabbit. A few other people ordered it when I was there.

Ms. Shilcutt, I think there is a 'Wanted' poster with your face on it at a rabbit farm in Pearland.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Breathless, perhaps. But that's how taken I was with the place. :)

And I'd argue that Pearland has a lot going for it, more than people would expect at least: Killen's Steakhouse, Floyd's, Central Texas BBQ, King's Biergarten, etc.

Vu Nguyen313
Vu Nguyen313

Thank you Katharine and Sahel. We are looking foward to serve you both all the best again.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

I had that venison — Katharine brought some back to the office after her first visit — and it was orgasmic.

 
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