“Eating slowly is good for the stomach; plowing deeply is good for the fields.”
Imagine if the village of Hatch was granted a trademark that awarded it exclusive rights to the name “chile.” Imagine Hatch then taking legal recourse against Chimayo, Lemitar, Jarales, et al. to prevent them from using the term. Civil war would surely ensue. A similar situation actually occurred in England when in 2013, an owner-operator of a small Vietnamese restaurant chain trademarked the term “Pho” (as well as “pho” and “PHO).” In a letter, the audacious trademark owner sent the following cease and desist request to existing restaurants: “…we have to ask all restaurants, large and small, to refrain from using the trademark Pho in their name. And with what we think is a fair amount of time to rename…”
While it’s not at all unusual for a restaurant to trademark its name in order to protect its identity, this particular overreach exemplifies either bureaucrats sleeping on the job or having absolutely no knowledge of the genesis and cultural significance of pho. How, after all, can the national dish of Vietnam possibly be trademarked? How could Vietnamese restaurateurs possibly be made to stop selling their nation’s most famous dish? Obviously there was also a very loud outcry across England, both among restaurateurs and the normally stodgy and staid British dining public. Ultimately the trademark owner recognized the fatuousness of its attempts to hog the name “Pho” and recanted efforts to prevent the use of the term.
Pho is not only the national dish and great source of pride for Vietnam, it’s the one Vietnamese dish which has gained sweeping mainstream acceptance across the world. Culinary cognoscenti believe pho could someday soon follow the path of pizza (Italian), tacos (Mexican), gyros (Greece) and sushi (Japanese) as ethnic foods that have become part of the fruited plain’s mainstream culture. Largely because pho is already so recognized, many Vietnamese restaurants incorporate the term in their name. In the Albuquerque metropolitan area for example, there’s: Pho #1, Pho Kobe, Pho Linh, Pho 79 and Pho Garden. January, 2019 saw the launch of Pho 505, yet another Vietnamese restaurant named for Vietnam’s sacrosanct soup.
Set on Route 66 in what many consider the cultural hub of the Duke City, it’s only fitting that Nob Hill’s only Vietnamese restaurant would incorporate the metropolitan area’s area code. Pho 505 is housed in a space previously occupied by such short-lived eateries as Soul & Vine, Loving Vegan and most recently 99 Degrees Seafood Kitchen, all good concepts which just didn’t catch on. When he closed 99 Degrees, restaurateur Vu Nguyen partnered with the good folks who own Bacon Jam to launch Pho 505. It took only a couple of months before the partners came to the realization that this location is afflicted by a business-killing curse called ART. A new location is in the planning.
As might be expected, Pho 505’s menu does list a number of soups though not nearly as many (five) as the restaurant’s name might suggest–and they’re listed in a section titled “Noodle Soups.” Unlike some Duke City Vietnamese restaurants, Pho 505’s menu isn’t a virtual compendium of Vietnamese dishes. Aside from noodle soups, the menu offers three noodle bowls, six rice plates, two stir-fry dishes, two salads, a banh mi, desserts, drinks and appetizers. While the menu may appear somewhat small, when you consider the different proteins you can have with your entree, the menu becomes larger. There are several vegetarian-friendly entrees as well.
Pho 505 may be the only Vietnamese restaurant in town to offer steamed clams (hard shelled prime white clams, green pepper, red pepper and Vietnamese mint leaves tossed with a garlic butter sauce). Alas, what was delivered to our table wasn’t what was described on the menu meaning there was no hint of green and red pepper or Vietnamese mint, only a couple of sprigs of cilantro. Nor were their flavors discernible within the garlic butter sauce. While the clams in garlic butter sauce were quite tasty, we were left wondering what additional flavors the promised ingredients would have delivered.
As with menus at many Asian restaurants, some items on Pho 505’s menu are spelled phonetically–how they sound. The satay beef noodle soup, for example, may confuse diners who know “satay” as a Thai appetizer of meat skewers served with a peanut sauce. For the anally-retentive among us, the spelling should be “sate,” named for a chili sauce which actually originated in China. Sate sauce is made with red chilis, garlic, shallots, sugar, red onions, lemongrass and peanuts. It’s a rather piquant sauce which renders soup similar in personality to bun bo Hue, my very favorite Vietnamese soup. Pho 505’s rendition includes beef brisket, meatballs, cucumber and tomatoes. Both my friend and colleague Tuan Bui and I agreed that by any spelling, this soup could have used a bit more heat. Diners in the 505 expect and can handle more heat.
Pho 505 is one of the most attractive Vietnamese restaurants in the metropolitan area. Time–and a new location–will tell whether Duke City diners will embrace it as enthusiastically as it deserves.
3409 Central Avenue, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 19 April 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Steamed Clams, Satay Beef Noodle Soup