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Fee! Fie! Phó! Fum!

A favorite Vietnamese dish available all across town

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Between winter and spring, one soup comes to mind that is both hot and healthy for those lingering winter ailments, yet non-fattening enough so you can begin wearing those revealing spring fashions. Phó is the celebrated Vietnamese soup that literally means your own bowl. Giant bowls of fragrant beef broth are filled with thin slices of brisket, flank or eye round steak then brought to the table with a platter stacked high with mint, basil, cilantro, quarters of lemons or lime, bean sprouts and chilies. Patrons use these to make the soup their own -- like the toppings on a pizza. Phó is not the only Vietnamese dish that's both filling and non-fattening. Do-it-yourself spring rolls also fall in this category. Here are some spots around town to find healthy Vietnamese food:

Entrepreneur Be Phan opened one of Charlotte's first Vietnamese restaurants almost two decades ago. Since then, she has operated many Vietnamese restaurants, currently overseeing her namesake: Be's Café in Myers Park. If you are familiar with Phan's cuisine, you will notice her restrained hand. There are no fire-breathing chilies here, unless you ask for them. Phan offers the better-known Vietnamese dishes such as phó, rolls, crepes and curries, and she has a well-picked wine list. Be's Café, 1701 Montford Dr., 704-527-5539.

Bên Thành Vietnamese Restaurant is owned by the Duong family that once owned Lang Van. Ngan Nguyen (the mother of the owner) was the chef at Lang Van and is now the chef here. The menu offers the full complement of phó -- Vietnamese hot pots, stir fries, noodle and rice dishes, Vietnamese French coffee and avocado shakes -- as well as grilled meats and many vegetarian selections. Entrees are priced under $10. The soup here is outstanding. Bên Thành Vietnamese Restaurant, 4900 Central Ave., 704-566-1088.

Phó 98 is owned by Thi Le, one of the hardest-working women in Charlotte. The broth for phó starts with roasted bones. Other healthy dishes here are the do-it-yourself spring rolls -- the Vietnamese burrito. Extremely delicate circular rice paper is brought to the table so the patron can soak it in a bowl of hot water to soften. Then the diner arranges the rice paper on a plate; stuffs it with lettuce, herbs, sprouts, steamed rice noodles, carrots, cucumber slices and either sautéed tofu, grilled chicken or beef to taste; and rolls it burrito-style. Peanut sauce is the preferred dunking condiment. Phó 98, 5937 South Blvd., 704-643-1243.

Phó Hoa is located in Saigon Square on Central Avenue and is part of the largest Vietnamese restaurant franchise operation in the US. Phó Hoa has a section of phós for the "adventurous." These soups include pieces of fatty flank, tripe and beef tendon. (All the other restaurants mentioned offer these ingredients as well.) Phó Hoa Restaurant, 3000 Central Ave., 704-536-7110

Vietnamese soup shops are abundant in many American cities. One such bare bones shop in Charlotte is Phó An Hoa, a no nonsense, inexpensive soup shop on Central. Phó An Hoa, 4832 A-B Central Ave., 704-537-2595.

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