Cafe Society

So Pho, So Good

Inside Pho 99, there are more fish than people – fish in tanks by the door, on the counter, by the register. This is a simple space -- comfortable and open and bright, friendly but not much more than functional. People come to Pho 99 to eat, nothing more. Which is fine, because eating is exactly what’s on my mind. Pretty much the only thing on my mind.

The pho tai gan comes with a jungle tangle of greenery on the side -- limes and jalapenos, mint on the stem and purple basil that I can smell even before I fold the leaves and tear them, bean sprouts (yuck) and Vietnamese sawleaf herb. Inside the big bowl are noodles (of course) and green onion (of course), white onions sliced razor-thin, sliced beef and tendon. Still, it’s soup and, like Laura’d said, soup couldn’t possibly hurt me. I take her at her word and eat everything, chewing carefully, swallowing most things whole like a snake. The broth isn’t sweet like some of the broths you find at other pho places; it doesn’t have the cloying lick of cinnamon and star anise that some of those places offer instead of a more honest and savory complexity. This is working-class pho -- plain, straightforward, serious. And it’s salty with beef juice because the meats are done in the traditional way -- added raw, cooked by the heat of the scalding broth like Vietnamese robata. I don’t think I’ve ever finished an entire bowl of pho before.

But I did at Pho 99. And when I was done, I just ordered more.

Last week was weird.I was recovering from oral surgery and wasn’t allowed to eat…well, anything, really. Or smoke. Or drink. And I immediately broke just about every rule there was at Pho 99. This week’s review is the story of just how that went.

And in Bite Me, we’ve got news, news and more news. Openings, closings, what happened to this place and whatever became of that one. Almost all the info came from me bouncing like a pinball all over the city trying to hunt down some mysterious joint that served banh xeo -- a Vietnamese dish nearly impossible to find here in Denver.

And I also revisited Pho Fusion -- Tom Bird’s Viet-Chinese-Thai fast-casual concept restaurant—for this week’s Second Helping. If you haven't been there, you should go: Bird offers an interesting modern take on the whole culinary Asian-invasion thing.

All that and more coming up on Thursday. -- Jason Sheehan

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun