As winter ticks by, the short days and long, cold nights leave us craving food that’s warm, comforting, and easy on the wallet. And nothing is more comforting than a big bowl of the Vietnamese favourite: pho. So we headed to Pho Viet Nam 999 on King Street West, to try it out.
The space isn’t fancy – the dining room is large and square with a few Vietnamese decorations added for levity, and outside the red roof from the building’s past life as a Pizza Hut remains. Beside our table is a sign advertising a fruit drink which can cure a number of ailments including cancer, calm hyperactivity in children, and provide an energy boost to adults feeling run down. Who knew?
When our server arrives, we ask for two small bowls of pho, one beef, one shrimp, and a plate of Co’m Tom Gang Rim Ga Nu’o’ng – marinated jumbo shrimp with grilled chicken with lemongrass and steamed rice. Beef is the most popular flavour of pho, and diners can order it with their choice of cut, including tendon and tripe, but pho with seafood or chicken are also an option.
The pho arrived within minutes and was piping hot. The clear, slightly oily broth is made from beef bones and meat, ginger, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and fish sauce, simmered then strained. Rice noodles typically fill 1/4 to 1/3 of the bowl, garnished with chopped green onion, and a plate of bean sprouts, Thai basil, thorny cilantro leaves, and lime wedges. We add the sprouts to the bowl, then tear up the herbs into smaller pieces, and scatter on top of the broth, and finish with a squeeze of lime.
The small pho is generously sized, perfect for dinner (for us anyway!), and at $9.99, a bargain. The broth is rich, the noodles slippery and filling, and the beef and shrimp provide texture. Halfway through the pho, our jumbo shrimp and chicken arrive with a small bowl of pho broth, a bowl of vinegar, fish sauce, sugar and water dressing, cucumber and carrots sticks.
Unfortunately, this plate was unremarkable. The single jumbo shrimp was large and cooked correctly, but the marinating sauce, though pleasingly bright on the plate, was bland and gelatinous. The lemongrass chicken also lacked flavour, but was moist and tender when cut. For $12.99, we were a bit let down.
Pho Viet Nam 999 is located at 299 King Street West. Open Monday to Sunday, 10 am to 11 pm.