The best rule of thumb when approaching a Vietnamese noodle shop is not to put all your phos in one basket. In other words, pho, Vietnam's ubiquitous rice noodle soup, has a variety of permutations throughout Vietnam. In fact, pho has three distinct regional broths: northern, central and southern. In the north, the broth is subtle and austere, but as you go south, the broth grows bold and assertive with high intensity flavors, and by Ho Chi Minh City the broth has hints of heat and sweet.
It was the latter style of pho that was first introduced to America since the first large group of immigrants brought with them the spicier, herbaceous foods of southern Vietnam and the more Westernized flavor palate of central Vietnam. Later the simple, and inexpensive, soups from the colder north became omnipresent in Vietnamese restaurants. Recently, Charlotte has gained regional variation of Vietnamese cuisine as restauranteurs have moved here from the West.
Such is the case with Pho Hong Vietnamese Noodle House, the eponymous new spot opened by restaurateur Hong Le last March after her move from California.
What attracted me to Pho Hong last spring was the announcement on their Facebook page they were featuring bun bo Hue, the rising star of Vietnamese soups. Contrary to its name, bun (noodle) bo (beef) is actually more pork than beef. The Hue part of its name is where the soup originated. Hue was the old capital of Vietnam – the Imperial City - located in the central part of the country.
Whereas pho is velvety, beefy and herbaceous, bun bo is a tapestry of lemongrass-scented, pork-intensive stock, with beef and shrimp paste that is fired up with a healthy splash of spicy chili oil. This soup is a tangle of herbs, thinly sliced onion, diced scallions and thick round rice noodles with bobbing slices of beef shank alternating with rectangular blocks of congealed pig's blood. Yep, blood curd. It has the consistency of tofu and the taste of, well, what it is. Not everyone loves the authenticity of this soup, so it can be ordered without the blood curd.
Even though Pho Hong is a noodle house, rice dishes are offered as well. Pigging out on the starters — especially the yummy spring rolls — leaves little room for delicious entrees like bo luc lac, AKA shaken beef (the shaking refers to the chef's action to cook the beef).
Since my first visit last May, Le has revamped the menu. Now it's easier to read, and the pictures are helpful for the uninitiated. Like all good mom-and-pops, the food at Pho Hong is pure comfort and reasonable. Most entrees and soups are under 10 bucks.