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Pho and gymnastics at Pho 95

We all watched as the little girl with the blue leotard and blonde hair staggered on the mats. We all watched as she stood there, staring blindly out into the crowd, glancing up at the uneven bars, furrowing her small brows.

Everyone in the place was watching. The room was quiet. Not silent (that would've only happened in the movie version of this moment), but expectant.

"She's gotta get back up there," said a man at a table on the other side of the room. "She's got to."

By one of the community tables in the middle of the floor, the two waiters had stopped, stunned, when the little girl had fallen -- smashing her chest and chin into the bars, hitting the ground on her feet, dazed but somehow unbroken. Now they sat, both of them having sunk into chairs to stare up at the big TV at the back of the room on which, for some reason, an entire restaurant full of people was watching women's gymnastics. All of us riveted. No one able to look away.

"They'll show it again," someone whispered.

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"She has to get back up there first."

That was how it started, my first, best night at Pho 95. It was weird but wonderful, and besides, any weirdness is worth enduring for the kind of pho I was able to get at Pho 95. If it's not the best in the city right now, it's certainly among the best.

After my review meals at Pho 95, I struck out a little further to investigate the single, 1000 South Federal block in all its strangeness and melting-pot glory. This short stretch is home to some of the coolest culinary kicks in the entire city.

It once included Ha Noi Pho, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in a whole neighborhood full of great ones. So I was excited to try Can Tho Pho, the joint that replaced it early this year and promised a mutt conglomeration of North and South Vietnamese styles, a kitchen skilled at turning out the specialties of both regions. But my meal did not go exactly as I imagined, as you'll see after reading this week's Cafe section.

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