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Simply Pho Is More Than Its Name Suggests

The menu at this little place in Midtown is diverse and delicious.

Get a behind the scenes look at Simply Pho by checking out our slideshow.

The name of the restaurant is completely misleading, as I discovered during my first meal there.

I was seated at one of the two dozen four-tops scattered throughout the spacious dining room and was handed a menu seven pages long. I found appetizers, banh mi, rice plates, fried rice, noodle plates, noodle soups, smoothies, vegetarian dishes and, finally, a section for pho, featuring 19 different varieties of the traditional Vietnamese soup. Nineteen out of more than 100 items. So no, it is not, as the name implies, Simply Pho. It's so much more.

The mi quang at Simply Pho is both alluring and comforting even in its exoticism.
Troy Fields
The mi quang at Simply Pho is both alluring and comforting even in its exoticism.

Location Info

Map

Simply Pho

2929 Milam St., C
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Montrose

Details

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Cha gio (Three crispy egg rolls): $2.95
Banh uot thit nuong (Two soft rolls with pork): $3.25
Banh mi thit nuong (Char-grilled pork sandwich): $2.95
Dau hu xao xu ot (Stir-fried tofu with chile): $6.95
Tofu pho (Beef broth with tofu and noodles): $4.95, $6.50
Mi quang (Rice noodles with shrimp and pork): $7.95
Banh canh hue (Noodle soup with shrimp dumplings): $7.95
Bun thit nuong cha gio (Char-grilled pork with vermicelli and egg rolls): $6.95
Smoothies: $3.50



For more on Simply Pho:

Slideshow: A Closer Look at Simply Pho
Blog: Pho To-Go at Simply Pho (And That's Not All You'll Find at This Gem)


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I know less than I should about Vietnamese food, so I recruited my friend Minh to join me and help decipher the restaurant's menu. Though it's helpfully translated into English, it features a lot of dishes that seem to be permutations on a theme. How to know which is the best or most interesting, or the most likely to satisfy?

Minh chatted with the waitress for a few minutes in the percussive, sing-song tones of their native language — though, he admitted to me, his Vietnamese is rusty — and in less than five minutes an alluring bowl of mi quang appeared before us. At first glance I had no idea what it was. There were black sesame crisps floating atop a mound of noodles so yellow they were almost approaching fluorescent. Bright pink and red shrimp poked out from beneath coarsely ground peanuts, contrasting with the fresh sprigs of grass-green cilantro and water mint nestled around the edges of the bowl. Once we started digging deeper, we found ruddy chunks of pork — so tender that we could pull them apart with our fingers — and a thin, dark-brown broth flavored with fish sauce and meat juices.

It required a feat of chopstick dexterity to gather every element in the bowl into a single bite, but when achieved, the resulting flavor combinations were something I'd never before experienced. Turmeric, lemon, garlic, mint, peanuts, basil, cilantro...so many characters working in harmony in this simple, classic Vietnamese dish.

In researching the cuisine, I came across a couplet that's often repeated in discussions of mi quang:

"Thuong nhau muc bat che xanh,

Lam to mi Quang anh xoi cho cung"

The poem tells the story a young girl who says she can prove the depth of her love for her mate with a cup of che xanh (green tea) and a bowl of mi quang. In short — when you love someone, show it with mi quang.

At the risk of sounding overly saccharine and sentimental, I think I get it. What better way to explain the intensity of your love than with such depth of flavor?
_____________________

My first attempt at ordering at Simply Pho resembled a comedy of errors.

"I'll have the 'chaw geo,' please." I was trying to pronounce cha gio and clearly failing.

"What?"

"The 'chaw geo'...Oh. I mean the A1. Guess my pronunciation is pretty bad, huh?"

"Okay."

"And a durian smoothie."

"Durian?"

"Yes, please."

"You sure?" The waitress made a face, looking as if she had just tasted something disgusting.

"Um...yes...thanks."

As soon as the server walked away from the table, my friends erupted in a fit of laughter. We all knew about the reputation of durian — the popular southeast Asian tree fruit whose smell is so pungent and repugnant it has been banned from hotels, airports and other means of public transportation in Singapore and a few other countries. Andrew Zimmern, host of the TV show Bizarre Foods, on which he eats anything and everything, refuses to eat durian.

Fortunately, once the smoothie aptly described as "pig shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock" (thanks for putting that taste into words, Richard Sterling) arrived, there were already other items on the table to mask the unfortunate taste and smell of the durian drink. I never finished it.

The dishes arrived rapid-fire, one right after the other, with no differentiation between appetizers, small plates and main dishes. As soon as something came out of the kitchen, it was brought to us. Somehow, without even trying, we ended up with a table full of everything but pho.

As we dined on crispy spring rolls and soft spring rolls, vermicelli noodles and stir-fried noodles, banh mi sandwiches and com dia rice plates, we watched the people behind the long faux-granite counter and back in the kitchen...not really working. They were whispering to each other, then laughing uproariously or pretending to fight with chopsticks while placing them on tables. One young man strolled around idly with an ice cream cone in one hand, unsure of what to do or where to help, while my friends and I fiddled with our empty water glasses. The employees appear to be mostly teenagers who, while friendly and engaging, probably have more interesting things to do than wait tables at the family restaurant.

A man who I later learned is Simply Pho's owner paced back and forth with an electric fly swatter resembling a small tennis racket that made a loud CRACK sound when the electrified grid made contact with an unfortunate bug. He smiled genially and welcomed customers when they arrived, then his brow would furrow and his eyes narrow, and it was clear he was on the hunt for a rogue fly once again. Perhaps his vision was better than mine, for I never saw even a single fly in the restaurant, though I was simultaneously put off and bemused by his stalwart efforts.

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11 comments
durianwriter
durianwriter

I love that disgusted durian face! It cracks me up - but I love durian. I love it so much that my husband and I actually spent a year traveling in Asia just to eat durian. We went to 9 different countries and ate something like a few thousand durians. It was pretty awesome. This is our blog: www.yearofthedurian.com

Noellyn111
Noellyn111

my Aunty Emily got Volvo XC60 SUV by working part-time at home. recommended you read J­a­m­2­0­.­­o­m

paval
paval

I have never understood the excitement in Houston for a simple broth (which Pho essentially is), but then I did not grow up with Campbell, Knorr or Maggi soups, but real broths and soups made by my german grandma, out of the rests of the week, just as she did during World War II days of short supply. 

But Simply Pho is my to go spot for one of the best tofu stir fries I know of. Several none tofu eaters were converted by me taking them there. Also in the appetizer section there is a rice paper steamed and grilled pork or chicken roll that is phantastic. 

I started going there when the hall, a clean and bright space was almost empty and it was with joy that i discovered visiting last week, that they have people waiting for a table. 

Of course i still have to wonder, how someone can churn out good tasting sandwiches with meat for 3.95 but that is neither here nor there. They are still better than Givral and Lees across the street. 

 


FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

Maybe it's just me, but shrimp paste flavored gummi worms don't sound remotely appetizing.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Presume by the term vermicelli dish you're referring to bu'n? Surprised they don't have the chargrilled pork and shrimp (most places Vietnamese places do). That's my litmus test at most Vietnamese restaurants.   Sure miss Thien An'.

Sploge
Sploge

@gossamersixteen Where do you get the spelling of bun as "bu'n?"  I'm Vietnamese and I've never seen it spelled that way. 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@gossamersixteen Thien An is well on their way renovating their new space on San Jacinto. Shouldn't be long now...

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@gossamersixteen That's essentially what it is, but on the menu, they refer to it as vermicelli. 

 
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