Since it was first introduced in the early 20th century, pho, a soup of broth, noodles, herbs, and either beef or chicken, has been a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. This favorite street food gained global popularity after the Vietnam War ended and refugees moved to the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world. Typically made with white rice noodles, and with a combination of spices—ginger, fennel, coriander, cinnamon, star anise, clove, and cardamom—pho has become one of the world’s most popular dishes.
Fortunately for the BU community, Pho Countryside—specializing in pho, but also with a wide selection of hot pot, vegetable, vermicelli, and stir-fried noodle dishes—opened in December in Kenmore Square in the space formerly occupied by the French restaurant Josephine. This is the Pho Countryside’s second spot; the first has been in Quincy for a year.
After just two months, the Vietnamese restaurant already has a loyal clientele, drawn by its reasonable prices, fresh ingredients sourced from local farms, and true to its name, authentic pho.
We stopped by on a recent Sunday afternoon to see what all the hype was about. Calming jazz music greeted us and groups of people were talking quietly. The restaurant is decorated with traditional Vietnamese artwork, orchids, and bamboo hats, along with a faux fireplace—welcome on a cold winter day. The small main dining area accommodates about 15 people at tables and another 20 around the bar. A downstairs bar area seats about 30, with views of a glass-encased wine cellar.
The vast menu offers over 15 varieties of pho, all priced at $9.95, including pho lobster, a beef noodle soup with steamed lobster, pho dac biet, a special combination noodle soup featuring eye round steak, flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe, and pho sa te, the chef’s special spicy sate beef noodle soup made with eye round steak, cucumber, tomato, and watercress. You can also choose from among nearly two dozen appetizers, seafood, chicken, and beef entrées, and vermicelli bowls made with grilled pork, beef, shrimp, chicken, or shrimp paste, and served with shredded lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, fish sauce, and peanuts. You’ll also find stir-fried noodles, family dishes, smoothies, and traditional Vietnamese desserts. But the real draw is the pho.
We began our meal with fried egg rolls ($4.95), pho dac biet ($9.95), and the combination noodle soup from the chef’s specialty menu ($9.95). The egg rolls were fried to perfection and had a tasty crunch, and the inside was fresh and not overcooked. The spices seasoned the vegetables so well that we didn’t even have to add any dipping sauce to our rolls.
When our pho dishes arrived, we were a bit overwhelmed: at Pho Countryside, the soup is served in very large bowls. The savory broth and the beef in the pho dac biet were offset nicely by the clean, fresh taste of the bean sprouts and cilantro. The rice noodles, a thicker type of vermicelli noodles, looked bland on first glance, but they soaked up the broth’s great flavor and were both light and hearty. We also had the option of ordering a combination noodle soup with rice noodles, but opted instead for egg noodles, which turned out to be a bit overpowering. The broth was a little too salty. We wondered whether the soup’s other ingredients—shrimp, imitation crab meat, pork liver, squid, and fish cake—might be daunting, but they complemented one another very well. The shrimp and crab meat were especially well seasoned and succulent.
We were too full to finish our meal (dessert will have to wait for a return trip), and as we eavesdropped, we realized we weren’t the only more than satisfied customers. Two nearby parties bonded over how much they had enjoyed their meals and the personal, attentive service. When the manager asked one of them his opinion of the food, he replied, “I’ve eaten all over the world and in Vietnam, and I can tell you this was very good.”
Pho Countryside, 468 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; phone: 857-990-3679. Takeout is available; find the menu here. Major credit cards are accepted. The restaurant also serves beer and wine, and is handicapped-accessible.
This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.
Kyler Sumter can be reached at email@example.com.+ Comments