By Jeff Glick and Sonny Forrest
Rejoice, authentic Vietnamese cuisine in Toledo
While the Toledo area boasts many restaurant choices, there are still only a few that serve the cuisine of Southeast Asia. Foods indigenous to Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines are virtually unrepresented locally in Northwest Ohio. There are, however, a handful of restaurateurs in this area that serve Thai and Vietnamese. Of these, a newer entry to the marketplace, aptly named Pho Noodle (26 S Reynolds Rd), serves excellent Vietnamese food at the corner of Hill Ave and Reynolds Rd.
Equipping Guests for The Food
To say that the atmosphere at Pho Noodle is understated is, in itself, an understatement. Not that this should deter anyone from visiting for a meal. Thanks to its bright lighting, the interior is clean and welcoming, and the look is utilitarian. Think of a school cafeteria with sturdy wooden chairs and tables adorned with medlies of Southeast Asian condiments. Equipping guests with authentic Vietnamese basics further personalizes the expertly seasoned food delivered from the kitchen. Each table is outfitted with a variety of condiments to enhance the tasting experience: pickled jalapeno and garlic, fried chili oil (made from crushed chili peppers steeped in oil), Squid brand fish sauce (an underrated essential for this type of cuisine), hoisin sauce and, of course, a green-capped bottle of Sriracha.
Each meal begins with a appetite-priming plate of shrimp chips. Crunchy and slightly marine in flavor, the chips, similar in texture to pork rinds, induct guests into the meal experience with their 1960s color palette of green, pink and yellow. Consider adding a little heat by topping them with the table’s pickled jalapeno and garlic or fried chili oil. Both accoutrements are recommended.
The first course, Summer Rolls, comprised of two translucent rice wraps rolled with vermicelli, shrimp and a green onion tail. The accompanying ramekin of sweet hoisin sauce sprinkled with chopped peanuts rounds the crisp combo of chilled ingredients with a tone of subtle cocoa.
A Vietnamese staple since the country’s colonization by the French, the Bahn Mi sandwich represents a metric for the quality of any purported Vietnamese restaurant. While Pho Noodle’s Banh Mi is available in a variety of combinations, the version headlined by pork belly, seemed a fair iteration on which to judge the sandwich selections as a whole. Stuffed with pork belly, pickled daikon, jalapeño, cucumber strings and sprigs of cilantro, the sandwich is constructed on a fresh-baked French roll with a firm-yet-flakey crust protecting a soft interior.
The requisite smear of pate and mayonnaise caps a combination of flavors that spans sweet, spicy, salty and herbaceous for one of the more satisfying Bahn Mi sandwiches this reviewer can remember enjoying.
Due to France’s control of Vietnam for 75 years from the 1880s to the mid-1950s, the Vietnamese have taken to baking mostly excellent bread. But because the Banh Mi roll as experienced in Vietnam is not available at any area bakeries, chef and owner Ryan Vo bakes the sandwich bread in-house each day.
The vermicelli, offered in varieties including beef, chicken, pork and seafood, was served with a side of fish sauce (but not too fishy), that accented the dish with a hint of sweet-and-sourness. Enjoying one topped with sliced shrimp, BBQ beef, cucumber, carrots, two deep-fried rolls made of spicy pork, tarot, chopped mushrooms, showcased a harmony of ingredient textures, ranging from crunchy to supple.
Pho, the restaurant’s namesake dish, represents something of a thesis statement for what guests can expect. The prologue of sprouts, mint leaves, jalapeño coins and kulantro (a variation of cilantro) evince freshness. The bowl of Pho soup, served in a small steaming cauldron and composed of a beef broth laboriously simmered for a full day, illustrates the dedication to flavorful richness with aplomb. The broth informs all ingredients of the soup. Opting for the deluxe beef Pho, a classic selection, the combination of the soup’s tender brisket, thinly sliced filet that cooks from pink to the color of brown sugar in the soup’s heat, gamey beef balls, butter-soft tendon and tripe punctuated the meal with satisfaction.
Evidencing passion for the cuisine
Chef and owner Ryan Vo opened his restaurant in 2019 as something of an elaborate passion project to fulfill his longing for quality Vietnamese cuisine scarcely found around the region. As a Vietnamese immigrant, he learned how things should taste and appear from the cooking of his mother and grandmother. Translating that knowledge into a series of experiments with the food and a variety of ingredients to duplicate exactly what he recalls from his childhood has manifest this restaurant.
Most ingredients for the menu offerings are prepared in house, including the sandwich’s bread as well as its mayonnaise and pate so he can achieve the flavors precisely as he remembers. This commitment highlights Pho Noodle’s passion for the food, and for making it taste the way that it should, in a traditional sense. Because the restaurant adjoins the Asian-focused Dragon Supermarket next door (also owned by Ryan), the arrangement provides him with a continuous supply of fresh ingredients to fuel his quest for gustatory perfection. When braving the cold weather this winter, indulge your pho cravings here.
Pho Noodle, 26 S. Reynolds Rd.
567-315-8808 | phonoodletoledo.com
11:30am-8:30pm | Tuesday-Sunday
Closed on Monday