House of Pho, 4833 S Hulen St, Ste 131, FW. 817-489-5001. 10am-9pm Mon-Thu, 10am-11pm Fri and Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
South Hulen Street has not historically been high on my list of destinations when a pho craving hits. The calls of Haltom and Arlington and their funky, floral, all-the-cow-parts-included noodle soups are hard to ignore, and my car’s autopilot is convinced that the good stuff is to the north or east, never south. However, as pho begins to approach the popularity of its Japanese cousin, ramen, among the noodle cognoscenti, Fort Worth’s landscape of pho-centric restaurants is spreading out.
House of Pho, the second outpost of the popular Burleson spot, opened in November, adding its extensive menu of traditional and, well, less-traditional offerings to the growing Hulen scene. Its menu boasts nearly the usual range of beef-bit-laden soups along with spring rolls, egg rolls, rice plates, and an array of Thai and other more nebulously “Asian” dishes. House of Pho seems to be hedging its bets on attracting a crowd adventurous enough to try Vietnamese but whose friends might have preferred Thai. Or Chinese.
The décor doesn’t scream “Vietnamese restaurant,” either, at least not in the ways Haltom City has trained me to anticipate. The strip mall eatery’s vibe is sleek and modern – the sparkling black granite of the tabletops plays counterpoint to the black ceiling tile and the heavily grained dark-wood booths. Two tall standing plants and a dragon boat of neatly trimmed bamboo nod to the Asian provenance of the space, as do the wooden accents between the booths. It’s a set-up both comfortable and stylish, if a little bland.
On a recent lunch visit, pangs of concern arose when my order of Vietnamese iced coffee was served pre-mixed, in a plastic cup, cloying and unpleasant. The arrival of two sets of spring rolls calmed these fears. Stuffed with vermicelli and lettuce, the traditional sliced pork and shrimp rolls offered a cooling crunch, and the accompanying warm peanut sauce – sweet, salty, and spicy – played excellent foil to the herb-filled rice-paper rolls. On our other plate, the charred edges of the grilled shrimp cake rolls imparted some smoke and brought out a touch of sweetness.
Eschewing the pho on my first visit, I opted for the small “Hue style” soup. Topped with the garnish of crisp red and green cabbage and Thai basil, this smelled promising – a slight funk of fish sauce gave way to bright lemongrass, then cilantro and green onion, followed by long-cooked beef and anise. A slice of chopstick tender beef shank poked through a thin slick of red chile oil that pooled around the garnishes. The thick round noodles were a rustic touch in what should have been a hearty dish. Sadly, this entree didn’t live up to its promise. Under-seasoned and lukewarm, the broth was overwhelmed by lemongrass and hit a single dull note.
My guest’s vermicelli bowl with grilled pork and egg roll was enormous and overflowed with perfectly tender noodles, crisp lettuce and cilantro, crunchy egg rolls, and smoky pork, expertly charred. The accompanying fish sauce was missing any distinct fishiness, perhaps in deference to the palates of the overwhelmingly non-Vietnamese neighborhood. The bowl was fresh and satisfying, although lacking in complexity.
We returned on a weekend evening to try the House’s namesake dish. I was similarly struck that, while fresh, packed with tender meats and noodles, and topped with both green and white onions, this pho lacked something. All the expected elements were in place – the steam carried anise and cinnamon, beef and basil – but the broth needed depth from fish sauce, cardamom, and fennel seed, instead of the simple salinity that dominated the light, clear liquid.
Where House of Pho misses, it is perhaps because it, like me, has paid too much attention to its location and its slick storefront and has not trusted its patrons to accept Vietnamese food as it is served in other parts of town. With all this restaurant does well, mall-weary shoppers and neighborhood residents will find a pleasant respite from the chains on Hulen. But my car may not make its way here on its own just yet.
House of Pho
Vietnamese iced coffee $3.50
Spring rolls $3.75
Shrimp cake spring rolls $4.75
“Hue style” spicy beef noodle soup $8
Vermicelli w/grilled pork, egg roll $8.95
House special beef noodle soup $8