Pho 79

I love some restaurants (like Pho Saigon, reviewed on page 39) because of the way time stops just inside the front door. I love other restaurants for the way they predict the future. And then there are places like Pho 79, which are all about the moment, this meal.

Pho 79, smack in the middle of Aurora’s Asian triangle, often does a crushing breakfast business, with people crowded around every table in the bunkerish space. These are my favorite times here — nine, maybe ten in the morning, when everyone is hunched over bowls of pho, slurping, stabbing with chopsticks, talking with their mouths full, waiting for their Vietnamese coffees to drip. The menu is simple — only pho, small, medium or large — and most of the Vietnamese customers (by far the largest demographic here) don’t speak their orders, just point. Some of them order two coffees at once, saving the rushing floor staff a trip. No escapism here: Everyone is talking business, discussing friends, keeping up on the news of the day.

Last week, though, I went to Pho 79 at night, craving the stronger broth that develops at pho shops as the day stretches long. I knew that if I ordered coffee, I’d be up for hours — so I ordered two (which had to be assembled special in the back, I think). Around me, the tables were sporadically populated by teenagers, families, guys coming off work. The floor staff was more relaxed than in the morning, and the soup was more powerful, more redolent of spices and bone — darker than my blond morning bowls, but no less delicious. The portions at Pho 79 are huge (even the small is plenty), the ingredients fresh, the prices cheap. But the very best thing about this restaurant (and, to a certain extent, its two siblings in Denver) is that when you eat here, you immerse yourself in a community, a moment in the very real world.

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