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Not far for Pho

Pho Viez specializes in Vietnamese dishes, Thai and Chinese cuisine

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

By Michael Vallas & Mark Smesko

brothersinfood@gmail.com

There is good, and then there is something special. When love is an ingredient, it’s usually the latter.

We discovered a little gem in Mineral Ridge that has that kind of special in every dish.

Hannah (Vang) Williams emigrated from Vietnam in 1990 and always wanted to open a restaurant that featured her family’s recipes. She and her husband, Jack Williams, took a gamble and decided to open Pho Viez in January in a strip plaza on state Route 46, just past the intersection of I-80.

When we arrived, Jack was wearing a T-shirt saying “Vietnamese with a Twist,” which begged the question, “What’s the twist?” He answered that in addition to Hannah’s Vietnamese dishes, they also serve Thai and Chinese cuisine.

We started our meal with various appetizers, starting with spring and summer rolls.

Their spring rolls are deep-fried and stuffed with mushrooms, ground pork, onions, carrots and napa cabbage. This is not your typical egg roll. It was perfectly crispy without being greasy, and the filling was savory and flavorful.

For the summer rolls, vermicelli noodles, cooked shrimp, cucumber, lettuce, bean sprouts and cilantro are stuffed into fresh rice paper. It’s served with the peanut-flavored house dipping sauce, which is similar to satay sauce. The ingredients were fresh and crisp, the shrimp were large, and the sauce was the perfect complement.

Next up was Pho Viez’s version of chicken wings. They’re offered spicy and nonspicy, but we opted for the heat. To make them, Hannah dusts them in flour, deep-fries them, then coats them in sauce made from red pepper flakes and sriracha. The wings were crunchy, but it was the sticky sauce that will make you crave these beauties. We even ate the sauce with a spoon; it’s a must-order.

The last appetizer was one that we haven’t eaten too often, but became one of our favorites: the papaya salad. It’s a plate filled with julienned-green papaya, daikon radish and carrots, mixed with lime juice and cilantro, and topped with house-roasted peanuts, shallots and shrimp, served with a tart dressing. The ingredients were amazingly fresh, and the peanuts and shallots added a hint of a smoky flavor. The tang of the dressing rounded out the salad perfectly. We would easily drive to Mineral Ridge for this dish alone.

When we first perused the menu, we knew we had to try the Banh Mi, the quintessential Vietnamese sandwich. Pho Viez’s version did not disappoint. We chose the pork version, but you can also choose chicken, beef or shrimp.

Before it’s cooked, pork loins are marinated in soy sauce, lemongrass and shallot. Hannah toasts a hoagie roll, spreads some of her homemade liver pate on it, then fills it with pork, cucumber, jalapenos, carrots, cilantro and pickled daikon radish. This dish is definitely special. The pork was tender and full of flavor, the jalapenos added a little spice and the pate added a subtle, gamey flavor.

After that, we moved to their signature dish, pho. It’s a Vietnamese noodle soup with rice noodles, herbs and meat, with four types offered by the restaurant.

We sampled the House Special Pho which is made of steak, meatball, beef tendon and tripe. This dish is truly a labor of love. It takes 12 to 15 hours to make and starts with soaking beef bones in ginger and limes, then simmering them for hours with star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, daikon and other spices.

When our large bowl of broth arrived at the table, we could smell all these spices. We added some cilantro, bean sprouts, jalapeno slices and Thai basil that is served on the side. The steak was sliced thin and tender, and the tendon and tripe melted in your mouth. But it was the broth that was the star of the show. We finished every last drop.

We gladly accepted the next two plates Hannah offered: pad thai and yellow curry.

The pad thai featured rice noodles, bean sprouts, chives, ground peanuts and a sweet tamarind sauce. We chose shrimp from the other protein options of beef and chicken.

The yellow curry came with crunchy bamboo shoots, sweet-potato cubes, red bell pepper, onions, slivered carrots and chicken. These were simmered in coconut milk and served with white rice. The varying textures and tastes in both these dishes made them outstanding.

As our meal ended, Hannah told us how she loves learning how to make her food differently. The combination of her love for both tradition and experimentation is the real ingredient that makes Pho Viez special.

Don’t hesitate to make the drive for this restaurant, and don’t hesitate to email us at brothersinfood@gmail.com if there’s a place you think we should give a try.