Old Strathcona can welcome a new restaurant in their midst: Pho Boy Vietnamese Kitchen. The one-of-a-kind authentic kitchen is serving up classic Vietnamese dishes and is targeting a younger crowd with a home on Whyte Avenue.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the last two Vietnamese restaurants to open in Edmonton have a younger vibe to them. I’ve been looking forward to the “modernizing” trend ever since visiting The Pig and the Lady in Honolulu, Oahu, where Vietnamese subs are dipped into a small bowls of pho broth (think like a French dip) and where your standard bowl of pho is nowhere near you’re actual standard but you’re completely okay with it. I’m looking for a fresh take on nostalgic flavours and familiar smells. Pho Boy Vietnamese Kitchen is trying to do just that.
Pho Boy is still in their soft opening phase since opening last December. They don’t launch their entire menu until February. The space is beautifully lit with inverted traditional Vietnamese rice farmer hats, highlighting murals of their wearer’s silhouettes against a sunset background. Vintage-feel prints adorn the opposing wall, the restaurant definitely setting itself apart from its counterparts in Edmonton. There’s even a Pho Boy-branded arcade machine in the corner waiting for your high score.
Despite the well-thought out decor, this wasn’t the first thing I noted. The smell of pho is the first thing to welcome you. An aromatic blend of beef, charred onions and ginger, spices like star anise, clove, and cinnamon are telltale sign of a good pho restaurant. It’s the smell of my childhood and I was instantly flooded with memories of my mom’s kitchen.
We started our meal with Sizzling Rice Poppers, or what I know as bánh khọt: savoury mini pancakes with coconut, shrimp, and pork. Traditionally they’re cooked in a special griddle to create little cups of rice flour and coconut milk batter and filled shrimp and herbs. They’re crispy on the outside, slightly doughy on the inside, and made into a roll with lettuce or mustard greens and herbs in the palm of your hand and dipped into the accompanying sauce. The menu didn’t elaborate on the dish or how to eat it, and our server didn’t instruct us. It’s a shame as I noticed other tables leaving their plates of lettuce untouched.
Likewise, the Sizzling Crispy Crepe or bánh xèo could use some more explanation. The crispier cousin of bánh khọt, the dish is a crepe with bright yellows from tumeric powder, not eggs. The word “sizzling” is a direct translation of “xèo” and describes the sound the batter makes as it hits the pan in the kitchen. Don’t expect it to come out sizzling! Similar to the pancakes, you would take a large piece of lettuce to roll a piece of the crepe and its fillings to dip into the fish sauce mixture. There was a generous portion of mung beans, bean sprouts, pork, and shrimp within the dish. I personally would have loved the crepe to sit longer in the pan, a crispier edge would make it all the more enjoyable.
You can Build Your Own Pho at Pho Boy, just pho you. By our second visit, the menu had only thin rice noodles to choose from, a selection of beef broth or satay broth (contains peanuts!), and your pick of up to three meats (beef steak, beef flank, beef balls, or chicken), and garnishes (cilantro, green onions, and yellow onions). As the aromas would suggest at the entrance, the pho broth is amazing. I’d rank this pretty high up on my list of Vietnamese restaurants in Edmonton. On the two occasions that I went, the beef broth had great body, depth of flavour, and strong notes of herbs and spices. Surprisingly (and thankfully), MSG is not a predominant flavour. The rice noodles were cooked perfectly and the portions of meat were generous. I’m a happy camper.
I had a chance to try the satay broth on my last visit and absolutely loved it. A great way to spice up your bowl.
Alternatively, you can try the Pho Boy Dragon Special, a bowl with it all: beef steak, beef flank, beef tripe, beef balls, dragon balls, chicken, tendon, and all the greens. Forewarning: there’s shrimp and crab in the dragon balls, something I wish the menu had indicated. They’re reminiscent of another dish called bún riêu, where shrimp, crab, ground pork and egg makes for a texture that simply falls apart when you bite into it.
Bowls come in three sizes, regular, large, and jumbo. I can tell you that I could finish a regular sized bowl, which actually means it’s smaller than normal. I’d suggest a large order if you’re making a meal out of it, jumbo for the fellas.
Overall, I think Pho Boy Vietnamese Kitchen is a welcome addition to not only Whyte Avenue, but to Edmonton as a whole. It doesn’t take Vietnamese cuisine to a whole new realm nor does it outlandishly step outside the box but the flavours are solid and so far execution has been consistent. I look forward to seeing the full menu in February and hope to come back for more feel good eats. So long as those aromas are still lingering, I’d call Pho Boy Vietnamese Kitchen home any day.
10037B – 82 Ave