Pho 79

There's one thing that Mary Nguyen and her crew at Parallel Seventeen (see review) don't do too well, and that's make a decent cup of Vietnamese coffee. They have all the correct materials -- Café du Monde coffee, sweetened condensed milk, a tin-drip filter, tall glasses filled with ice -- but somehow, the finished product doesn't deliver the proper rocket-fuel kick. Lucky for us (or for me, anyway), Denver has Pho 79 -- three local links in a short chain of purely Vietnamese pho restaurants -- where anyone with a taste for a cool glass of coffee that possesses all the useful features of freebasing crystal meth (wakefulness, focused concentration, catlike reflexes, a certain desire to commit public acts of performance art) can get a fix. Aurora's Pho 79 is cramped and bunkerish, full at nearly all hours with neighbors and gastronauts, Vietnamese families and solo adventurers like myself sitting hunched over gigantic bowls of pho and tall glasses of coffee. At the beginning of each day, servers prepare dozens, maybe hundreds of coffee setups -- arranging filters and glasses, sweet milk and spoons -- on sheet trays that are kept in a service area just off the kitchen. That done, they can reserve the rest of their energy for making pho, the only other thing the restaurant serves, in all its variations, from squeaky meatball bo vien to the more esoteric tripe and tendon options.

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