Pho is not a food you order to take away.
Like crispy fried chicken or freshly stirred spaghetti carbonara, pho is something that tastes best when it's served up in a bowl as soon as the protein and broth are ready. To get it to go is to do it a disservice.
That said, I frequently order take-away lunch and bring it back to the office to work while I eat. And that's how I found myself at Simply Pho, the subject of this week's café review, committing the cardinal sin of ordering to-go pho.
This wasn't the first time I'd picked up a meal on the run at Simply Pho, and I knew from experience that the cooks there are fast and efficient, and that the portable meal would be similar in quality to a sit-down dinner enjoyed in the small restaurant. Partly as an experiment, and partly because it was a dreary, rainy day and I was craving it, I sat down, ordered tofu pho, and asked my server to doggie-bag it. Without thinking twice about the seemingly insurmountable feat before him, he sped off to the back to get the prep going.
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A few minutes later, several neatly wrapped containers were placed in front of me and I paid and left. On the short drive back to the office I cradled the warm bag in my lap, taking every turn carefully so as not to upset what was sure to be a delicate package. Upon arriving at my desk I found, to my surprise, that the pho had not only survived the trip, but that it was just as fresh and hot as it would have been had I eaten it in the shop.
The broth was by itself in one large plastic container, and though the heat of the broth had warped it a little, it hadn't leaked at all. Another plastic vessel contained the tofu, noodles, onions and cilantro, while a small Ziplock bag held basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, jalapeños, and a little cup of sriracha and hoisin sauce mixed together.
Perhaps I'm easily amused. Perhaps all Vietnamese restaurants do take-out this way, and I've always been too worried about the effect on my food to give them a chance to show me how they do portable food. Perhaps this is all common sense, and not, as I thought at first, an ingenious feat of transportation technology. But it did make for some pretty divine pho at my desk.
You'll read in the review that Simply Pho has a lot more to offer than merely pho, and for the most part the other dishes there are better than the pho. There are other Vietnamese restaurants in town with more flavorful broth or better beef or the perfect ratio of noodles to bean sprouts. But Simply Pho has won me over with its quick counter service, awesome soups (different from the pho) and willingness to make even a simple take-out dish eaten at a desk under harsh, fluorescent lighting a special meal.