With the weather turning chilly, and even the most stubbornly optimistic folks are grudgingly admitting that summer is over, and winter soon upon us... we head to one of our favourite haunts for hot comforting bowls of pho. Pronounced "fff-uh" and not "foe", we're looking forward to silky soft noodles, various cuts of beef and fresh veges all swimming in a savory bowl of hot broth made fresh daily. Mmmmm! When we're too lazy to check if Tau Bay is open, we head to Phonatics, because not only are they consistently open, they are a mean contender in the best pho in the city category. Tucked into a small strip mall up in the north west end of the city, cool emeralds and aqua tones add welcoming, tranquil elements to the cream and brown decor palette at this family run restaurant (the wife is a kitchen dynamo and makes everything from scratch). Simple watercolor paintings by the owners relatives adorn the walls. Service is efficient, friendly and polite. Leaning more towards comfort food, we skip over their bun bo bue (a spicy beef soup noodle) and their rice vermicelli dishes with grilled meats and order up a round of homemade comfort...pho! But enough talk, lets get to the food and pics! (My apologies, we used a old camera because we forgot the nice dSLR at home, and it was a bit dim inside, so we didn't get quite as many nice pics as we wanted)
Phonatics has arguably the best spring rolls in the city (barring ones my Vietnamese girlfriend's moms make). Occasionally they are double fried (like tonight's - deeper golden brown), and usually freshly fried (light golden brown). Regardless, the exterior is a light ungreasy crispy, with a savory filling of pork, vermicelli, and vegetables. Served with a tangy and savory fish sauce, they disappeared like magic. I wonder if they sell them by the dozen, or truckful lol! They lack the grease, chewiness and tough exteriors that we find at a lot of other restaurants. Available as a half order (3) or full order (6), we felt we ordered too few after the first delicious bite. Ah well, more room for dessert!
the pho toppings
For the uninitiated, the pho is only half of the meal. The fun part is the assortment of vegetables and condiments you add to customize your soupy noodles!
The little bowls are provided so you can dip your chopsticks/noodles in, and your broth doesn't become too condiment-y!
-White Jar #1: chili garlic hot sauce
-White Jar #2: homemade satay sauce loaded with ground chilis, garlic, shallots, and shrimp paste.. scoop up more of the chili oil for more spice, or more of the satay goop on the bottom of the jar for flavor flavor flavor!
-Squeeze bottles: Chinese hot sauce, and hoisin sauce (sweet caramelized sauce)
You add fresh sprigs of Thai or lemon basil, and occasionally fresh long leaves of ngo gai (tastes like a herbal cilantro), raw bean sprouts (you can asked to have them cooked on the side if you don't like them raw), and squish some lime for zing, and its veru useful to temper the heat if you went to town on the hot sauce(s).
The beef based broth that has been simmered for hours is light and savory with notes of star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon amongst other secret ingredients. Its ladled hot over top of raw thinly cut steak and thinly sliced beef flank and big fistful of rice noodles. Homemade meatballs with a bouncy mouthfeel, along with shredded bits of beef tripe and small pieces of tender beef tendon float in the clear broth (a sign of a good pho is one that is not cloudy!). Its all garnished with a mini mountain of slivered onions, cilantro and green onions. Though the meat portions aren't as large as they used to be when they first opened, its still a filling portion of pho (especially if you order the large bowl!). You can order a version with less adventurous meats as well if you're new to the wonderful world of pho. *SLURP!!!*
We passed on the small variety of juices and the Vietnamese iced coffee that takes 30min to brew with enough caffeine to glue your eyeballs to the ceiling, and go with one of their bean desserts. BEANS?! In dessert?! We know, it sounds odd, but they're yummy! Various beans - red, green or white are cooked in syrup until they're a soft sugary delectable, and are layered in glasses with coconut milk, jello like pieces and shaved ice. Our White Bean Dessert had soft mooshy white beans in a light simple syrup on the bottom, a layer of fragrant and rich coconut milk, and a dome of shaved ice. It takes a bit of tricky work with the long spoon and straw to mix it up a bit so you get bites from all layers. The straw helps get all the melty, goopy tastiness towards the end. Best shared, as the creamy rich coconut milk and sweetened beans make for a quite filling dessert! Nomnomnom!
Overall, a great place to grab a hot steaming bowl of delicious pho and the best spring rolls in the city! Combined with a nice selection in their menu that includes bun bo bue, vermicelli dishes, broken rice dishes and yummy traditional desserts, its easy to see why this restaurant is a favourite amongst families and the Vietnamese community.
Phonatics Vietnamese Restaurant
Address 13138 137 Avenue Northwest, Edmonton, AB
Phone (780) 456-2997
Hours Tue-Thur 11am-8pm, Fri-Sun 11am-9pm, Closed Mondays
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