I applaud when I see a new restaurant that does not come with an attached enormous corporate entity in South Hill, the land of chains. But just because a restaurant is not a chain does not guarantee it is worthy of your dining dollars.
I liked the sharp and stylish decor of Pho The Best, a combination Vietnamese-Thai restaurant that opened in January a few doors down from the Rock Wood Fired Pizza in Puyallup's South Hill. However, the food and pricing at Pho The Best has stiff competition from nearby Ayothaya, a longtime South Hill Thai institution across Meridian, and Pho Tai, an inexpensive and consistently excellent Vietnamese restaurant a short distance away.
That's not to say Pho The Best is a flop. It's not. It just didn't make me want to stray from my go-to restaurants Ayothaya or Pho Tai. The restaurant landscape of South Hill offers plenty of choices for Thai and Vietnamese, and newcomers need to lift the bar. Pho The Best didn't do that for me during two visits.
I found the pork phad Thai ($9.99) overly sweet, with no spicy or sour dimension to the rice noodle dish. The larb ($9.99) - a chopped chicken salad - was sufficiently sour with lime and came in a pretty display, but the chicken was chewy and dry. And where was the promised mint? The pho broth ($6.95, small) tasted strongly of beef but lacked the fragrant, aromatic notes that give Vietnamese noodle soup dimension.
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Thai noodles ($9.95) held just the right amount of spicy tease in the creamy peanut sauce, and the dish was threaded with an abundance of Thai basil (bonus points for that). However, the beef was dry and leathery, and the wide noodles were soggy and overcooked. The dish left me shaking my head.
I paid a visit a few days later to Ayothaya for comparison's sake. Larb gai ($7.49) was a copious serving of Thai chicken salad with just the right hit of spice and puckery lime. The salad came stuffed in hollowed cucumber wedges, a nice visual touch. The pork phad Thai ($8.59), like Pho the Best, bordered on too sweet, but the heat and pucker in the rice noodles balanced the flavors. Heavenly coriander ($8.59) came with thinly sliced and tender beef swimming in a watery but tasty sweet-salty sauce with bursts of flavor from coriander seeds and crunch from snappy snow peas, mushrooms and bell peppers.
Pho The BestWhere: 4301 S. Meridian, PuyallupPhone: 253-435-0316
Ayothaya: 4102 S. Meridian, Puyallup, 253-841-7599, www.hellothai food.com/ayothaya.html
Pho Tai: 13103 Meridian E., Puyallup, 253-840-4474