Friend or Pho? First Impressions of Mobile’s new “Taste of Vietnam”

12 Mar

The new Taste of Vietnam, located on Airport Blvd. in Mobile, AL, opened its doors just a short while ago. Many of us were immediately skeptical. Mobile desperately needs more good ethnic eateries, but this particular location has not exactly been a good luck charm as far as restaurants go. Many have tried, many have died. It’s not necessarily a bad part of town, yet certainly not the most pleasing to the eye. The building itself is pretty large and appears to be an old home at some point converted to a commercial property.

I had recently viewed an episode of TV’s “No Reservations” that Tony Bourdain and his crew had shot in Cambodia. This alone had provided me with ample motivation to give Taste of Vietnam a try. I stopped in on a late Friday morning — just a few minutes before the noon lunch rush. The place was pretty quiet except for some circa 1960s Stan Getz jazz playing softly in the background. This was strike one for me. I dig Getz, but I honestly prefer hearing the home country’s native sounds when dining at an ethnic restaurant.

The interior decor was clean and pleasant enough. Although I will add that it felt like a odd cross between a Chinese buffet and an American Legion Hall. I’m hoping the rather cavernous dining room will begin to feel more finished and lived in as the coming days and weeks pass.

I started my meal with freshly wrapped Spring Rolls ($3.50 for 3 large rolls) stuffed with tiny shrimp and crisp veggies. They were really delicious. Let me re-phrase that … SUPER delicious. You could tell they were just made and the accompanying dipping sauce (an blissful marriage of sweet and spicy) was superb. We were off to a flying start. I was pleased and had a silly grin on my face. My happy demeanor was further stoked by a tableside visit from one of the proprietors. She was a cute, little Vietnamese lady dolled up in a shiny, light blue Asian dress (I believe they are called “Ao Dai” in Vietnam?). She was very pleasant and quite interested in my honest opinions. I inquired if business was good and she responded “Yes, thank God” in somewhat broken English.

My lunch order of Pho (in this case, a beef noodle variety) steeped with basil & spring onion. The portion was massive and a good value at $7.95. This dish could easily be shared by two mid-day diners, but I was determined to polish it off myself. Eating Pho is sort of a “build your own soup” experience. The establishment provides the basic canvas of meat, noodles and broth. You are then encouraged to customize your soup with a variety of provided greenery (basil, cilantro, thinly sliced jalapeno), fiery hot sauce (most often Sriracha), lime wedges, bean sprouts, and sticky sweet hoisin sauce.

This assortment (seen above) of fresh veg, herbs & citrus was provided to build my Pho. I was not the least bit bashful in putting these goodies to immediate use. I went especially heavy with the basil and crunchy bean sprouts. I have learned to be careful about adding too much jalapeno. You can’t go wrong by adding a little (which I did), but bolder diners getting too agressive with jalapeno slices will be subjected to an absolute devil’s brew of fiery hot broth. This was once my fate and I have learned greatly from that experience. My broth this day, much like Goldilocks’ last sip of porridge, was just right. Yes, I had found a new friend in the Pho at Taste of Vietnam.

I’m hoping that Taste of Vietnam can prove the jinx wrong and make it work in this location with such a checkered past. They do deserve your support. But please don’t wait too long to give them a shot. They need you and your word of mouth advertising right now. Visit soon or don’t bemoan Mobile’s lack of a good Vietnamese eatery. We now have one, so what are you waiting Pho???

Taste of Vietnam – 2400 Airport Blvd, Mobile, AL, Phone: (251)287-0491

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