Pho Golden's pho bowls just the thing to chase away fall chills

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Ever since Pot of Pho closed, finding good (meat-free) pho in the west suburbs has been a challenge. We still think Pho 95 makes the best veggie pho in the city, but sometimes, driving to Federal Boulevard seems like more trouble than it's worth. So we were happy when Pho Golden opened up in, well, Golden, because that means more vegetarian pho options across the metro area.

On this past rainy/snowy Saturday, we weren't the only ones with the idea of scarfing some pho to stave off the chills; all of the restaurant booths save one were full of families and couples slurping up the Vietnamese noodle soup this place was named for. Pho Golden is tucked inside a strip mall next to a King Soopers, and the interior is surprisingly swank, with a little shrine to Buddha in the entryway and bamboo decor inside.

The pho itself was savory and served up steaming, with chunks of crisp carrot and broccoli slowly cooking in the broth along with cubes of tofu and slices of onion, chives floating on the soup's surface and a tangled web of thin rice noodles lurking beneath. Loaded up with some bean sprouts, sweet chili sauce, Thai basil and some of the hottest jalapenos we've tasted in a long time, it chased the chills away beautifully.

To start with, we had the vegetable spring rolls -- fried tofu rolled up with rice noodles and served with a peanut dipping sauce. They were tasty; in fact, we wished that Pho Golden would consider frying up their tofu in the soup like Pho 95 does. Sure, there are some extra calories involved, but the taste difference would have been exponential.

Pho Golden also offers bun and stir-fried vegetable plates, along with the full spectrum of meat: rare tendon, tripe, flank and brisket steak options, meatball, chicken and seafood. The restaurant is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; visit www.phogolden.com to peruse the menu.

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