The longest relationship I had in the six years I lived in Washington, D.C., involved a man with whom I exchanged just a few dozen words.
Once a week, without fail, I would show up at Pho 75 in Arlington, Virginia, where at the front of the line, I would tell my man how big a table I needed, he would gesture toward a spot and that would be it. (Sometimes, he took orders, which might elicit the occasional “You want Number 15 — large or small?” Exciting stuff, I tell you.)
I went back to Pho 75 every week not because of the guy, of course, but rather the beef noodle soup that they serve, which is consistently the stuff that my most mouthwatering, heart-pounding, bordering-on-porn dreams are made of.
The noodles are always perfectly cooked; the beef lovely and tender. But the broth, oh, that broth. (And the stirrings I feel whenever I think of it.) Made from simmering oxtails, cinnamon, star anise, onions and fennel seeds for hours, that soup is so succulent and hearty it could be a meal all on its own.
In the six years since I left D.C. for New York, I’ve been on a mission to find something comparable — to no avail. Sometimes it was the noodles or the beef that failed to measure up but all too often, the problem lay with the soups — they were bland, too sweet or not sweet enough.
After six years of pho-hopping in New York City, however, I’m happy to report that I’ve finally found a version that’s not bad.
Pho Grand in Manhattan’s Chinatown — it’s almost worth cheating on my D.C. man for.
For starters, the bowls are inexpensive and good-sized. I understand that New York rents generally make it hard for places to charge less than $10 for a bowl of noodles, especially if noodles are the main thing your restaurant serves.
At Pho Grand, the noodles are $5.95 for a large bowl, $4.95 for a small. What you’re seeing below is the large — it’s more than enough for the average diner, I’d say. (I counted at least 10 large pieces of eye of round in mine.)
The broth was beautifully done — beefy and sweet with detectable but not overwhelming tastes of the usual pho spices.
But I, a big condiment-lover, was won over when I asked for sliced jalapenos in addition to the Sriracha chili sauce and the waiter instantly produced not a small dish of jalapenos but a jar of the stuff.
My only issue with the dish was the beef, which could have been a little more tender.
For $5.95, though, I’m thinking it’s fine to let that slide.
Which brings me to the item on the menu that made me truly speechless with disbelief — the $2 pork chop appetizer.
I adore garlicky and sugary Vietnamese pork chops — I make them at home and order them whenever I see them on a menu. When I saw this $2 dish, I figured we’d be getting a small chop, maybe cut into bite-sized portions.
What you’re seeing below is the chops we got — each $2 one was almost the size of my face.
And they were just delicious — perfectly grilled with just the right amount of char.
Now, I’m not saying Pho Grand is perfect — the service is slower than molasses and the waiters so indifferent and slightly inappropriate that open staring at any cleavage or short skirts is to be expected.
But for $2 pork chops and $5.95 bowls of hard-to-forget pho, I’m definitely going back.
Just don’t tell my Pho 75 boyfriend.
Pho Grand, 277C Grand Street, 212.965.5366, www.phograndny.com