So many pho restaurants operate in the South Sound, a new one infrequently merits a story.
Pho is everywhere here.
Except Gig Harbor.
The community on the other end of the Narrows bridges does have a few Vietnamese restaurants, but those options are limited.
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There’s the new-ish Fresh Rolls, a restaurant I appreciate because it focuses on healthy cooking and lists calories on the menu.
LeLe has operated in Gig Harbor for more than a decade with upscale Thai and Vietnamese offerings (its sister restaurants operate across the bridge).
Pho Ever & Wok is Gig Harbor’s all-purpose Japanese-Vietnamese mash-up.
Here’s a first-bite look. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
The owner: Nhan Vo and several family members operate the restaurant, said family friend Gene Gatlin, who translated Vo’s answers to The News Tribune written questions. Vo, Gatlin said, has cooked at eight Pierce County Vietnamese restaurants but always dreamed of owning his own for the three years he actively looked for a location.
The family considered 50 — yes, 50 — sites from Thurston County to South King County before finding the Gig Harbor location.
“It was a bit intimidating and a leap of faith taking over an existing restaurant, but not nearly as stressful as starting a new restaurant would be with a 10-year lease and mountains of permits. Pho & More opened nine weeks after signing,” said Vo via Gatlin. From Day 1, family members volunteered to help run the restaurant, but Vo has been able to hire staff members.
The dining room: As casual as one would expect from an inexpensive pho den. Seating for 56.
Should I cross the bridge? That’s a solid no to diners east of the Narrows. Tacoma, Puyallup and Lakewood brim with terrific pho. So don’t cross the Narrows unless you skip meat. In that case ...
Meatless pho: Rarely do I encounter vegan pho with complexity. How’d they do that? Pho & More’s meatless broth was spiked with aromatics, an infusion of anise and what tasted like lots of roasted vegetables. Several other vegan options listed beyond pho. Vo assured the broth was completely free of all animal products.
Meat broths: As is true of most every pho restaurant, a beef broth is the core broth for the rest of the pho menu. Chicken broth also listed.
So about that meatless broth: It can be swapped for the beef broth in any pho at no charge, Vo said, with this surprising tidbit: “There are quite a few orders for the vegan pho and many people ordering the vegan pho — but with the beef broth.”
That could be the best of both worlds for those (myself included) who aren’t vegan, but do want to reduce their meat intake while also eating more vegetables.
The menu: Split into the usual Vietnamese fast pho shop categories of pho, banh mi sandwiches, rice plates, noodle bowls (bun), fried rice and appetizers. The menu also lists teriyaki ($9 to $10).
For pho, find multiple styles of meat-based pho (rare beef, brisket, flank, meatball, chicken, tendon, tripe), priced $7.50 for a regular size and $8.50 for large. Also, seafood pho ($8.50 to $9.50) and vegan pho ($7.50 to $8.50).
Five styles of banh mi sandwich, including pork, chicken, tofu and beef ($4.50 to $5). Bun noodle salad bowls come in five configurations, including one meatless ($9 to $10). Rice plates include grilled pork chop, grilled chicken, grilled beef and other choices ($9 to $12). Appetizers include the usual fresh rolls ($2), fried roll ($3), pot stickers ($5), chicken wings ($7.50) and more. Rice or brown rice served.
Kids: Kid-sized pho bowls are $5.50.
Drinks: Bubble tea ($3.50), Vietnamese coffee ($3), Thai tea ($3), typical sodas and more.
Gluten-free: Yes, ask for the options.
Order on a first visit: That aromatic bowl of meatless pho arrived brimming with halved mushrooms, still-crisp broccoli, onions, carrots and wedges of fried tofu. Potstickers tasted above average — plump with ground pork and ginger and fried crisp. A banh mi sandwich with marinated, grilled chicken thigh was stuffed with fresh cilantro and pickled vegetables.
A noodle bowl was just as one would expect of bun — that refreshing cold rice noodle bowl served with chopped greens, herbs, crunchy pickled vegetables, chopped peanuts and a tangy vinaigrette. Get it with grilled pork.
Watch for: Vo’s specialty, bun bo hue, which will rotate through the specials menu.
“It is very spicy and rich with shrimp paste and lemongrass in the broth,” explained Vo via Gatlin. “Ingredients include pork hocks with the skin expanding during cooking, cubes of pork blood or Vietnamese meatloaf, and topped with shredded banana flower.”
Pho & More Vietnamese Restaurant
Where: 5315 Point Fosdick Drive NW, Gig Harbor
Info: 253-313-0459, bit.ly/2MaTc0d
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.