The suburbs are usually a wasteland when it comes to finding good food. There are plenty of fast-food to-go options ranging from KFC to McDonald’s and Whataburger, and plenty of fast-casual chains too, like Panera and Pei Wei. But it’s not very often that you stumble upon a really good restaurant on the outskirts of a suburb like Sugar Land, which is why The Pho Shack is such a pleasant surprise.
Located in a small strip mall at the corner of Grand Parkway and Highway 90 Alternate, The Pho Shack opened in late December of 2016 with little fanfare. Even though I drove by it daily, it was more than three months before I stepped through its doors, and since then, I have gone back several times, both to dine in and for takeout orders.
I’ve sampled most of the menu at this point, and there are two things that I would go back for again and again. The first is the pho, which is as good as anything you’ll get on Bellaire Boulevard in Chinatown, if not better. Let me explain. One of my biggest gripes about exploring food in Chinatown is this tendency for those restaurants to use cheap ingredients, or to cut corners so that they can stay competitive on price.
At The Pho Shack, the pho is high quality. The broth, made from the owner and first-time restaurateur Danh Le’s personal recipe, takes about 14 hours to prepare. And it is simply delicious: full-bodied and delicate in aroma, like something your mom would make, and without any MSG. Bowls are priced at $7 and $9.50 for small and large, respectively, and for that price, you get your choice of two quality meat toppings.
Now, while some might take issue with the fact that only two meat toppings are included in the price, I haven’t found this to be a problem. The fatty brisket, or gau (which I always order), is melt-in-your-mouth tender and made of prime brisket. Rare tai is made of prime rib eye. The meatballs are also excellent. I usually order the meatballs and the fatty brisket, and couldn’t be happier. If you want more meat, additional topping selections can be had for 75 cents.
The other dish I’ve grown to love at The Pho Shack is the chargrilled pork vermicelli bowl with egg rolls, or bun thit nuong cha gio. At $11, this is a little bit higher than what you’d pay in Chinatown, but it is well worth it. Le uses locally sourced pork to make his thit nuong, which is thick-cut, tender and flavorful. The egg rolls, which can also be ordered à la carte at $3 for two, are made by his mom. The vegetables are fresh and the noodles are springy, and there’s so much in the bowl it’s almost enough for two.
And that brings me to the other reason I love this place. This is not your typical Vietnamese restaurant opened by first-generation Vietnamese immigrants on a shoestring budget trying to make a future for themselves. It’s Vietnamese dining with next-gen ideas and execution. Le was born and raised in Palacios. His father is a Gulf shrimper. His wife, Trang, works by his side, and manages the front of the house while he takes care of the kitchen.
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The restaurant is adorable, with a hip, retro-’70s feel that channels That '70s Show. Its focus is not to offer the biggest menu that will appeal to everyone — as you often get in Chinatown with menus offering hundreds of selections — but to offer a selection of greatest hits, tailored to the community. In addition to pho and the rice vermicelli, you can order rice plates, banh mi and spring rolls — all of it made with a focus on quality.
“I spend a lot of money on my meats,” says Le, who adds, “I want customers to eat what I eat.”
In Sugar Land, that’s a recipe for some great Vietnamese eats, and the best bowl of pho around.
The Pho Shack is located at 5022 Hwy 90 Alternate, Suite A, and offers home delivery via YelpEats. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/thephoshack.