Dry Chicken Pho at Pho Thai Binh Duong: Best in the City

Pho Thai Binh Duong (11528 Bellaire Blvd #G, Tel: 832-351-3451) is one of those under-the-radar pho places that is patronized primarily by Vietnamese. It's partially tucked behind a building in the back of a strip mall near the intersection of Bellaire and Kirkwood, and you wouldn't see it from the street if you didn't already know it was there. But it attracts people because there's ample seating for large families, it's open until 3 a.m., it has a xe lua, or giant bowl of pho for people with big appetites, and its signature dish, the pho ga kho, is done better here than anywhere else in the city.

Pho ga kho, literally translated, simply means "chicken pho dry." On the menu, it's translated for you and reads, "Tossed chicken noodle, soup on the side." And it's cheap. The regular bowl will set you back a mere $4.95, while the large is just $1 more. Add some liver or giblets to the soup on the side, and it'll cost another 60 cents.

I usually order a large with some giblets in the broth. The pho rice noodles, which are mixed with a flavorful brown sauce, are always prepared just so. Sometimes they are so al dente and stick together so much that I liberally sprinkle some pho broth in to loosen up the noodles.

But most of the time, I just mix the noodles up and eat it straight up, sipping the broth after every few bites to help wash it down. The chicken topping is julienned skin and all, and mixed with some julienned black fungus before being stir fried in a wok. It's the wok preparation that's key here, giving the dish a unique smoky flavor that's almost like a chow fun, but much less greasy. It's delicious. I'm told that you can order the soup beo, or fatty, and that it'll come with some floating bits of bone marrow in it. Can't wait to try it.

The restaurant itself is large and spacious, if not a bit dark during the day, and probably on the lower spectrum of cleanliness. It's owned by a hardworking husband-and-wife team that takes turns manning the cash register (it's cash-only). You'll find the wife there during the day, her sweet smile and soft voice belying the fact that she works 10-12 hour days six days a week to make sure that patrons like me have a satisfying meal.

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