by Cara E. Wade
At first glance, Phở Tháisởn resembles many of Austin’s other phở establishments. Nestled into the strip mall in the northwest corner of Anderson and Burnet next to Terra Toys, its menu features the many variations of phở, bún, and spring rolls typical of pho restaurants; but closer inspection reveals a far more expansive menu than simply noodles and broth. The restaurant, one of six local branches, is open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily; ordering and service is relatively quick.
If, at this point, you are asking “What is phở?” then here is a quick introduction: phở (insiders in this tasty world of southeast Asian cuisines pronounce it “fəh” and not “foe”) is a delicious Vietnamese broth-based noodle soup garnished with cilantro, mint, bean sprouts and more. While the bulk of this soup is thin rice noodles and a protein, usually beef, the highlight of all good phở is a clear, rich broth made from simmering beef bones for many hours. One customizes phở by selecting among cuts of meat such as steak, flank, tendon, tripe, or even chicken or tofu; the thinly-sliced meat arrives at the table still cooking in the hot broth and one adds garnishes, hot sauce, and squeezes of lime to personal tastes.
But if you come into Phở Tháisởn for only the phở, you’re missing out on the real highlights of this restaurant. Their phở and bún are both quite good, and the spring rolls are delicious (particularly the grilled pork, which balances the perfect amount of tender meat to vermicelli), but unlike most phở establishments their menu doesn’t stop there – it also features an array of Vietnamese curries, rice and noodle stir fries, and meat and vegetarian entrees. Personal favorites include the beef curry (B11), which is pleasantly peppery but never overly spicy, and the vegetable and tofu stir fry in Buddha Delight sauce (V3) which, with its mix of crunchy lightly cooked veggies and very firm tofu perfectly pan-fried, is savory enough to win over non-vegetarians. More recent ventures included the shrimp and squid stir fry, which pairs a garlicky Tháisởn Delight sauce with the tangy fishiness of the squid and shrimp, and the menu remains full of as-yet unexplored options. And for those whose food mantra is “the hotter, the better,” the Burning Spicy dishes, with their featured protein stir fried in red chili sauce accompanied by steamed broccoli, is sheer palate-tingling bliss.
Most dishes are served with a choice of rice or noodles; for low-carb or gluten-free diets, the staff is happy to substitute extra vegetables in their place. And like many Asian restaurants, there are plenty of vegetarian options for the meat-averse, and levels of spiciness can be customized on request.
Aside from the abundance of delicious menu options, one of the nicest things about this restaurant is its presentation: unlike most phở eateries, the interior does not resemble a sparsely furnished high school cafeteria, nor does it veer into the clichéd Asian restaurant ambience of black lacquer and gold dragons, but instead features cozy booths and tables and interesting photographs and wall hangings. The plating of the dishes is also quite nice. While sparser environments shouldn’t preclude one from enjoying a good bowl of phở, the decor does make this restaurant a bit more appropriate for bringing colleagues or dates for a nicer meal. Noise levels are also much lower than the ear-jarring levels at most restaurants.
One caveat before dining: if you’re in a hurry, ask for your check as soon as entrees arrive at the table. Most parts of the world do not rush restaurant patrons from their seats in order to quickly refill the table, instead allowing them to linger and converse to their hearts’ content, and Phở Tháisởn is no exception. If you have the extra time and room, follow the meal with a Vietnamese coffee, a decadent blend of hearty caffeination and sweet condensed milk, or a coconut bubble tea (food coma-inducing). Or just enjoy the complimentary hot tea and rolled biscuit brought by the server at the end of a meal, a perfectly sweet finale to this dining experience.
2438 West Anderson Lane
512-420-0001 (take-out available)
HOURS: seven days a week, 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
PRICE: entrees typically range from $6-10