Foodies are a passionate–some would say even snobbish–lot. The most passionate among them are sticklers for authenticity and provenance of ingredients and preparation methods. The plebeian among us who don’t know quite as much had better not represent inaccuracies as truths (much as politicians do) or even use culinary terms incorrectly lest we be excoriated. Tieghan Gerard, a well-intentioned blogger, learned just how passionate savvy foodies can be. Tieghan, the creator of the popular food blog Half Baked Harvest found herself in hot water when she had the audacity to misrepresent a quick noodle soup recipe.
More specifically, she dubbed her recipe “chicken pho,” a faux pas on may levels and for many reasons. Readers were quick to point out the recipe was NOT pho, a dish that should never be prepared quickly. Strictly speaking, they pointed out, pho is a soup made with beef (although increasingly chicken and vegetarian versions are being made). Several steps in the recipe (such as caramelizing the chicken) would never be done in a traditional pho recipe. For the most woke among her readers, Tieghan’s most grievous mortal sin was in calling her soup “pho,” an unforgivable misappropriation of Vietnam’s most popular and famous dish.
In short order Tieghan changed the name of the dish to “easy sesame chicken and noodles in spicy broth” and issued an apology. Her attempts at attenuating the ardor of those who took most umbrage with her mistakes fell on some deaf years. One especially passionate reader expressed it this way: “Pho is the ultimate love language in Vietnamese culture. It sits on the stove for hours, simmering in charred spices and herbs like star anise, ginger and cloves. It’s the ultimate comfort food and how we say ‘I love you’ in a culture where those words are rarely said out loud. Tieghan’s ‘pho ga’ was nowhere near that.”
Whoa! It’s with the utmost respect and admiration that I approach this review as I try to do with every review published on Gil’s Thrilling.. All the Vietnamese friends I’ve made over the years would expect nothing less. Like Tieghan, I do have one apology to make. That’s to my friend and colleague Tuan Bui with whom my first visit to Pho Nho was supposed to happen. Alas, because of a schedule conflict we were unable to meet so joining me instead was another bonafide aficionado of Vietnamese food, my Kim. Tuan, please consider my visit to Pho Nho a “scouting expedition.” We’ll visit together soon.
Pho Nho is the answer to many prayers by aficionados of Vietnamese cuisine living on Albuquerque’s burgeoning northwest quadrant which was previously served by only one other Vietnamese restaurant (Leona Banh Mi). Launched in August, 2022, Pho Nho not only serves a previously deprived area, it serves a menu that should bring in savvy diners from throughout the metropolitan area. Pho Nho offers several items you won’t find anywhere else among the nearly fifty Vietnamese restaurants in the area. That menu offers mouth-watering excitement pho-natics like me will love.
According to our lovely server Gwen, “Nho” (there’s an accent over the letter “o”) is a Vietnamese term for “memorable.” This is a restaurant that lives up to that term. Though fairly nondescript from the outside, it’s pristine and modish–garish orange seating not withstanding. To your right as you walk in you’ll espy a glass water wall perpetually bubbling and burbling in a tranquil manner that sets a mood. An exhibition kitchen is the source of the enticing aromas which will envelop you. The elderly gentleman tending to large metallic pots of boiling broth is the father of owner Vu Tran. Vu, an engaging and friendly guy, brags that his father is a master chef.
More than many Vietnamese restaurants sporting the term “Pho” on their marquee, Pho Nho is really about pho, the luxurious, umami-rich, earthy broth that has captured the hearts and appetites of Americans. Peruse that menu and won’t see a compendium, but a focused, purposeful menu listing eleven types of beef noodle soup, five seafood rice noodle soups (including one with lobster tail) with a beef or chicken broth, four pork noodle soup dishes and one chicken noodle soup. The pho menu is prefaced by a statement indicating “Our pho noodle soup contains healthy herbs and spices to naturally boost your immune system and speed up your body’s recovery time” followed by an ingredient list: “star anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, onion served with bean sprouts, Thai basil, limes, jalapeños topped with cilantro, green scallions, sliced onion, ground pepper.”
Perhaps the most intriguing entree on the menu is satay oxtail hotpot for two served with served with two types of noodles (egg noodles or rice noodles), vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and special sauce. If you’ve never had a hotpot dish, you might want to review my review of Zu Hot Pot. It’s a sixty dollar indulgence (not counting the cost of add-on proteins which are ten dollars each. More beef ribs and extra oxtail go for a bit more. The only other items on the menu are five banh mi, baguette-centric sandwiches served with home-made pate, Vietnamese mayonnaise, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, home-made sauce, Vietnamese pickled carrots and daikon as well as your choice of proteins.
9 December 2022: There are only two appetizers on the menu–spring rolls and egg rolls. The egg rolls are Chinese style, a mixture of diced vegetables in a flaky, crispy fried shell (if there were any meats in the egg rolls, they’re not easily discernible). As with Chinese egg rolls, these aren’t quite as tightly rolled and packed as Thai or Vietnamese egg rolls. All that is well and good, but not so is the accompanying plum sauce. These were the first egg rolls we’ve had at a Vietnamese restaurant that didn’t serve fish sauce (nước chấm) with egg rolls. When we asked for fish sauce, we were directed to a condiment cozy where we found a bottle of very salty, somewhat fishy tasting Thai fish sauce. Sorry, Pho Nho, it’s just not the same.
9 December 2022: Not since traveling to San Jose during my days at Intel have I had oxtail noodle soup. Although the notion of oxtail may sound unappetizing and may not be the most attractive protein you’ve ever seen, its flavor is worth getting past its knobby appearance. More than anything, oxtail tastes like beef with a deeply rich flavor. It’s somewhat similar to a short rib, but more tender and with a silkier texture. Pho Nho’s version of oxtail noodle soup is served in a gleaming stainless steel bowl brimming with wide, flat noodles, cilantro, onions and four gnarled ox tails. Extricating the unctuous meat is an easy task on account of just how tender the meet is. Not to mention how absolutely delicious oxtail swimming in beef broth can be.
9 December 2022: My Kim had an equally rare (in Albuquerque) pho–pork ribs noodle soup. We were handed a pair of scissors with which to separate the five meaty (porky?) ribs. Each rib is replete with tender, unctuous, sinfully good meat. The meat is reminiscent of the beef you’ll find in a great Mexican caldo de res (beef stew) for its tender, umami-rich, deeply earthy flavor. Pork ribs noodle soup is the essence of pho, the beef noodle soup carnivorous foodies dream about. Globules of glistening fat testify to the influence of the fatty, meaty, absolutely delicious pork ribs.
16 December 2022: “Humans have been enjoying delicious and nutritious animal bone marrow for centuries. It has a sweet, rich taste and a hearty texture, and is used mostly to flavor broths and soups. Recently, it has become a main course item at gourmet restaurants around the world. As bone marrow has gained popularity in top kitchens around the world, scientists and doctors have begun to take a closer look at the following health benefits it presents. Bone marrow is full of collagen, which improves the health and strength of bones and skin. It is also rich in glucosamine, a compound that helps against osteoarthritis, relieves joint pain, and reduces inflammation in the joints.“
If you think the previous paragraph came from one of the food blogs I scour, think again. It actually came from Web MD which makes a lot of sense since the focus of the article is mostly on the health benefits of bone marrow. My friend Tuan and I weren’t thinking about the health benefits of the fabulous beef marrow soup we enjoyed at Pho Nho. Quite the contrary. We were solely focused on how luxurious and indulgent the beef marrow soup was. We both polished off an entire bowl of this enchanting elixir, taking particular notice of the globules of fatty goodness. ALL beef pho broth should have a layer of fat covering its surface. These globules of unctuous deliciousness add great beefy flavors to the broth and retain a lot of the spice flavors that make it a pho broth and not just regular beef stock.
16 December 2022: Over the years I’ve eschewed pho in favor of more exciting (spicy) beef soups. The beef marrow soup is bringing me back. It’s one of the very best bowls of pho I’ve ever had at a Vietnamese restaurant. In fact, neither Tuan nor I could make a case for the sixty-dollar satay oxtail hotpot being better than the beef marrow soup. Mind you, that’s saying a lot because the satay oxtail hotpot is the restaurant’s signature dish, the biggest differentiator between Pho Nho and other pho-centric Vietnamese restaurants in the Duke City area. The satay oxtail hotpot is a very special dish, likely one of my thrilling (and filling) best dishes for 2022. Maybe it’ll be 1 and the beef marrow soup will be 1a.
16 December 2022: If you’ve ever visited Zu Hot Pot on Albuquerque’s east side, you’re familiar with the concept of hot pot. In my estimation, Pho Nho takes that concept and elevates it (or maybe because it tastes so much better, it seems elevated). As with all hot pot meals, it’s intended for two…even two trenchermen like Tuan and me. First to be delivered to our table was a portable one burner stove. Then came plates of wide, flat egg noodles, fresh vegetables (mushrooms, herbs, dried bean curds, napa cabbage) and cubes of tofu. Last to be delivered was a potful of steaming broth in which reconstituted jujubes (Chinese dates) swam. Submerged just below the surface were four of the largest oxtails Tuan had ever seen.
16 December 2022: Jujubes are intended to ameliorate flavors, imparting notes reminiscent of dried dates or apricots. They’re mildly sour and have a small pit inside. They’re particularly effective on savory dishes such as satay (not to be confused with the Thai dish of grilled meats on skewers, usually paired with a peanut sauce dipping sauce). Vietnamese satay (typically spelled sate) is a garlicky, well-spiced chili sauce. It makes for a wonderful soup which you construct yourself. Tuan is much more adept at using chopsticks than I am so he was appointed chef for our table. Perhaps because we had polished off the beef marrow soup, we didn’t quite finish our hot pot. Still, three bowls of fabulous soup should protect us from the ills of New Mexico’s cold snap. This was sixty dollars very well spent.
Pork and beef ribs are among the unctuous proteins used at Pho Nho (others are oxtail, brisket, beef cheek, marrow and tripe), a restaurant which exemplifies the true definition of beef pho.
2641 Coors Blvd, N.W., Suite D
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 9 December 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Pork Ribs Noodle Soup, Oxtail Noodle Soup, Egg Rolls, Satay Oxtail Hotpot, Beef Marrow Soup