Warm up and fill up at cheery Everett noodle shop
Pho, the country's national dish, is a hearty bowl of broth filled with rice noodles, fresh herbs and your choice of beef, duck, chicken, seafood or tofu.
Increasingly popular in this country, pho (pronounced fa) is to Vietnam what a bowl of cereal is here. Often sold by women who brew it up a pot at a time at sidewalk stands, the soup is breakfast, sometimes lunch.
In Vietnam, each vendor typically brews up one pot, flavored with whatever meat she can get.
Most Vietnamese restaurants in Snohomish County offer a variety of phos. That's the case with Pho Mai Noodles, a bright, cheerful storefront in a strip mall near Evergreen Way and 52nd Street SE in Everett.
The restaurant is friendly and comfortable with floor-to-ceiling windows and a large aquarium containing colorful fish at the entry.
Service was prompt, courteous and endearing.
Pho is the star of the menu, but there are plenty of other options too. Egg rolls, grilled pork and fresh rolls fill the appetizer section.
During a lunchtime visit the other day, a co-worker and I sampled the fresh rolls ($2.95), rice noodles, shrimp, pork and herbs rolled up in a soft piece of rice paper. The rolls come with a peanut dipping sauce. They were fresh and tasty, whetting our appetites.
There are 15 options for pho at Pho Mai Noodles. Most are combinations of different cuts of beef, including brisket, eye of the round, tendons and tripe. There also is a chicken pho (made with the same beef broth), a seafood version with shrimp, mussels and fishballs, and a tofu version.
You choose the size, small ($5.45), medium ($6.35), large ($6.85) or extra-large ($7.65). A small was plenty for me; extra large would be for someone who is really hungry. You also can order extra meat ($1), broth ($1) or noodles (85 cents).
Each bowl comes with a plate of bean sprouts, fresh basil, lime wedges and sliced jalapeno, leaving the diner to add extra flavor and texture as desired.
On two visits, we tried the chicken and beef pho.
Of many chicken phos I've tasted, this was among the best. It was full of green onions, the broth had a delicious flavor and the chicken was all shredded white meat, not bits of cartilage and tough leg meat that you find at some pho joints.
A co-worker who had the beef pho loved the tender meat, which she said was flavorful, not gristly.
The pad thai ($5.95) was a generous portion, spiced well, with extra tofu added to the chicken. I was a bit surprised to see pad thai on the menu -- it's not a traditional Vietnamese dish -- but this one was as good as any from a Thai place.
The combination bun, or vermicelli noodles, was excellent. I ordered the combination with grilled pork, an egg roll, and a skewer of shrimp ($7.65). This is a big bowl of cold rice noodles topped with the meat, pickled carrot and radish, lettuce, sprouts, peanuts and crispy fried green onions. You toss it together with a fish sauce dressing. The pork, threaded onto a skewer like a ribbon, was juicy and tender.
Pho Mai Noodles offers a range of rice dishes ($5.95 to $8.25), some specials and banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich that Calvin Trillin once described as the best product of colonialism. It's a French baguette, filled with grilled meats, pickled vegetables, jalapeno and mayonnaise ($3.25 to $3.75).
There are an array of drinks to choose from, including Vietnamese specialties like my favorite, Da Chanh, ($1.75) a spritzy, tart lemonade.
When you need a place to warm up and fill up, this is a stop to seek out again and again.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; email@example.com.
Pho Mai Noodles
5129 Evergreen Way S., Everett; 425-303-8866; www.phomainoodles.com.
Specialty: Vietnamese noodle soup.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Vegetarian: Plenty of options.
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