Boulder's newest Vietnamese beef noodle soup purveyor, Pho Kitchen Bar and Grill, offers a standard menu of this specialty, but it also goes well beyond just ladling out pho. This eatery also provides a comprehensive array of rice and noodle dishes, as well as seafood, beef, chicken and vegetarian entrees.
Pho Kitchen is housed in the modernistic multi-story Baseline venue that was formally the site of Basil Flats. Consequently, the ambience is closer to more upscale Vietnamese eateries you might find in a prosperous California suburb than that of a typical mom-and-pop joint.
During a weekday lunch, my dining companion and I found both a moderate crowd as well as prompt and hospitable service that would work well for diners in a hurry.
In the past, pho eateries were light on the meatless options, but Pho Kitchen offers a number of tofu and veggie-based selections. These include deep-fried tofu tossed in lemongrass, a black mushroom stir fry and even a vegetable-based drunken noodle dish.
As my lunch companion is vegetarian, we started off with two meatless spring rolls for $5. Rather than shrimp or pork, these spotlighted morsels of tofu, fried enough to lend some heft, but not too heavily breaded. The meat wasn't really missed with this choice, as it hit all the right notes when it came to a top-notch spring roll. The rice paper wrapper wasn't dry or heavy; it carried a pleasing translucent appearance. Green herbs were fresh, crisp and packed with pungent flavor. The noodles had been correctly prepared, al dente and happily free from clumping. Last but not least, a rich peanut sauce struck a spot-on balance between sweet and salty, along with a hint of coconut.
Another noteworthy vegetarian option was my dining companion's meatless pho, priced at $10.95 for a generously sized medium bowl. My friend was offered a choice of beef or vegetarian broth, and unsurprisingly, he opted for the herbivore version. The meatless broth was lighter in taste and color than its beefy cousin, as one would expect, but it was more than satisfying. Its lightness and flavor were somewhat reminiscent of a simple won ton soup. Of course, there's always the option of adding a few spritzes of hoisin and sriracha sauces to deepen the flavor, if desired.
Instead of the assortment of beef cuts found in the cattle-centric original, a varied mix of crisp, tender vegetables comprised the bulk of the pho, alongside rice noodles. A substantial cornucopia of vegetables included baby corn, zucchini, carrot, broccoli, water chestnuts and baby bok choy. Making an encore appearance was the fried tofu from the spring roll.
For the same price as its vegetarian counterpart, the Dac Biet combination pho offered a mix of rare steak — brisket and flank cuts as well as tendon and tripe. The tendon was exceptionally tender and silky, as was the flank. A requisite plate of garnishes was the picture of appealing freshness, including sharp leafy herbs, crisp bean sprouts, plump lime wedges and peppy jalapeño slices.
Of course, the measure of a pho restaurant is the broth, and the full flavor of Pho Kitchen's version measures up to anything else in Colorado, and perhaps beyond. My main beef (pun intended) with inferior pho broth is a lack of depth. I had previously visited Pho Kitchen for non-review purposes early on, and found the broth decent, but not particularly remarkable.
On this visit, however, I found the broth possessed the full-bodied richness that can only come from correctly slow-cooking pots of bones. As is the case with the best broths, there was some fat in the soup, but not enough to render it greasy. Another key indicator is the balance between slightly sweet and salty, and the broth here certainly hit the sweet spot. The quality of the broth was so high that I initially resisted by usually tendency to doctor up the soup with jalapeño and lime so that I could enjoy it in it's unadulterated state.
While I did feel some initial skepticism at the fact that Pho Kitchen's namesake dish was priced a little bit more than the soup at comparable eateries, the quality of the broth makes it all worth it. As a matter of fact, any pho fan would be well-advised to sample this signature dish here.