Just off Mercer University Drive, between the mall and Interstate 475, there’s a strip of stores that includes a gas station and a bar. It also includes a tiny place called Pho Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant that obviously concerns itself with doing food well.
When we first arrived we were the only guests, but within the two hours of our visit several other couples and families arrived. Interestingly, I suspect that these cosmopolitan diners traveled far from home to go to Pho Saigon. Even a local celebrity came in, looking like a regular, but I will protect said celebrity’s identity.
Pho is a type of noodle soup that usually has thinly sliced meat as its main ingredient. We tried the Pho Tai Gan, with round steak and tendon, and the Pho Tom, with shrimp. I don’t know much about Vietnamese food, but I can gather from the variations of pho that they are specific about their cuts of meat. You can get pho with flank and tendon, with flank and fatty flank, with brisket and tendon, or even brisket, fatty flank, tendon and tripe(if you don’t know what this is, don’t ask).
My favorite part of the pho, though, is not the soup itself — though it’s delicious and soothing and perfect — it’s the garnishes that come with it. On a separate plate, you are brought beautiful, fresh herbs like coriander leaves, Thai basil, bean sprouts and a lime wedge. The lime adds a surprising bright note to a steaming bowl of brothy soup.
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You can also add your own condiments from the table, like hoisin sauce and hot sauce. The noodles are tender, but the meat was sometimes a little challenging. Shrimp is the way to go if you want to get your feet wet first.
The two choices of appetizers are fried egg rolls and the very fresh, very beautiful spring rolls. You might even think of the spring rolls as more of a vertical salad, since they are not fried like you might expect. They come with a sweet dipping sauce and could easily serve two.
Other dishes you may want to try are the sautéed chicken with lemongrass and vermicelli, and the rice with grilled short ribs. If those still don’t bring you in, there are other dishes like Vietnamese-style fried rice with shrimp and vegetables, and several other noodle dishes to try. Another fun part of the adventure was trying all the different types of non-alcoholic drinks they have at Pho Saigon. Several are made with sweetened condensed milk (can you ever go wrong with that?), like the Ca Phe Sua Nong, which combines it with hot Vietnamese coffee.
Another favorite was Da Chanh, a bubbly lemonade made and served with club soda — very refreshing. And, of course, you can’t have Vietnamese food without a nice pot of hot tea in a ceramic teapot to serve everyone at the table.
Pho Saigon is not a place that you are going to stumble upon as you’re driving around looking for a place to feed. It is the type of place you must select, then find, then enjoy the fruits of your labor.
As the warm broth soothes your throat and you are served lovely dishes that show time and care, it will be worth your effort.
Address: 1686 North Atwood Drive
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, Sunday by reservation
Vegetarian Options: yes
Handicap Access: yes
Health Rating: 100