Don't you just love pho?! (Insert heart emoji here). Twin Citians know pho like other cities know ramen. Some of you grew up on pho. And if you grew up on pho, you likely love pho.
Piping hot bowls of rich yet clear stocks are filled with noodles enough for a Strega Nona book, herbs, bean sprouts, and lime, with condiments placed thoughtfully on the side so you can make it your way. In my house, its medicinal properties have usurped the lowlier bowl of chicken noodle. I heart pho.
So when this straightforward little noodle cafe popped up on Maryland Avenue in a long vacant fast food building, I about crashed my car careening into the parking lot. As promised, the menu is distilled to only the most famous and favorite Vietnamese dishes, you know the ones — pho, banh mi, rice platters and rice bowls, spring rolls and wontons, and inexplicably, I guess for the drunk uncle in your group, sweet potato fries.
The place seems to be run by a few young guys who were still working on some opening jitters — and Jess Fleming of the Pioneer Press reports that it's owned by the same people who run iPho on University — but they should catch their bearings soon.
It's a sweetly simple concept with a basic buildout — pretty much some booths and tables, a lot of blue paint, and a window where you pay when you've finished. They're open for lunch and until 7 p.m., we'll call that early dinner, no booze but they do serve a bang-up iced Vietnamese coffee, soft drinks, limeade, and even frozen coconut drinks and Thai tea. Lunch was a revolving door of a mostly younger Asian crowd who seemed to be grabbing a quick bite at lunch hour.
While it wasn't the best pho I've ever eaten — I truly think it can take years to become really great at this game, in the sorts of places where it tastes like the flame never goes out beneath the giant stockpot. The chicken was a bit dry, too, but overall it was a good experience, the stock reasonably nuanced and the portions impossible to finish in one go. At $7.50 for the regular size, it was unfathomable how anyone could take on the XL, which goes for just a 55 cent price increase.
Overall this seems like a savvy move by a new generation of Minnesotan Southeast Asians. While they may have grown up on the traditional cooking of their parents and grandparents, they also know what resonates with a younger, Americanized palate, and they're aiming to give the people only what they want, and nothing that they don't. And who doesn't heart that?
I Heart Pho
850 Maryland Ave. E., St. Paul
No phone number found