“Enraptured by Pho” Just Like Anthony Bourdain but in Tulsa

By on December 16, 2010

Pho can become an obsession. Hot, steamy, redolent of beef and a thousand spices, curiously comforting and evocative, with hints of the sea and the land, of rice paddies and temple bells, to us a bit exotic but to Vietnamese bringing memories of home and childhood in quite the same way as a simple tea cookie helped Proust to recapture his past, this simple soup, first served in northern Vietnam around 1880 but only becoming popular after 1950, has achieved the aura of fable and tradition. There are websites, clubs, magazines. Pho debates are endless. Which is better, northern or southern? What condiments should be added? You can imagine a pilgrim sliding along muddy jungle trails, gliding on tiny boats up the Mekong, searching for that perfect bowl of pho.

I was immune to all that. For me it was just a pleasant, mildly spiced soup with some noodles thrown in. Until last night. At some point yesterday I was hit by a strangely compelling craving. Must… have… pho! Some time on my computer yielded the name of a place as yet unknown to me, way out east where Mingo becomes a two-lane country road. It was dark, we crossed mighty rivers (Mingo Creek) and I tried to imagine I was on Vietnam Highway 1 (which is probably better maintained). Amidst dark deserted low-slung buildings, the lights of Pho Da Cao shone out like a beacon. I wouldn’t call it elegant, but a lot of thought and effort went into the wood-paneled decor. Okay enough about the decor… let’s get to the pho.

We got ours with thinly sliced steak and meatballs (Pho Tai Bo Vien), and we got the largest size ($9). Ohhh it was large. You could feed several families and use the bowl to bathe your baby. Now along with all this goodness came a long platter heaped high with sprigs of basil and cilantro, slices of lime and lots of raw bean sprouts. I took some broth, beef and noodles in a smaller bowl and tasted it. Mild, hints of star anise and maybe cinnamon, not all that compelling. Then I added some bean sprouts. Let them soak. They were great! So I added some cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Then some basil. Then more sprouts. With each addition the flavor changed. It was like tasting a new soup each time. If Heraclitus had been Vietnamese, he would have said that you never taste the same pho twice. And the taste became richer, sweeter, more compelling until by the end I was shoveling it in, oblivious to everything but my need for pho.

And it wasn’t even my pho! Yes, it was Cathe’s pho. I had ordered Bun Bo Hue ($7).

That’s a famous soup too. Food explorer Anthony Bourdain traveled to a tiny town in Vietnam just to try it. If he’d been closer to Tulsa, he could have had it here. It’s described on the menu as “served usually with beef shank, pigs feet, steamed Vietnamese pork loaf, pigs blood, rice noodles.” Of course that appealed to me, and I made sure they put the pigs blood in. (It’s not a liquid, it comes in little cakes that look and taste like beef liver.) The broth was lovely. Its appeal was a lot like the pho, but the taste was different. In fact, I think I might even like the Bun Bo Hue better. “Spicy, delicious, vibrant and soulful,” said Anthony Bourdain while describing it. I can’t top that.

I mustn’t forget the pork chop ($7).

Betty got that. Soft, tender, with a sweet, spicy marinade, it’s a fine choice. But nothing could outshine the pho. My favorite pho addict article is titled “Enraptured by Pho” Finally I understand the title.

Pho Da Cao
9066 E. 31 Street
918-270-2715
http://www.phodacao.webs.com
Open 11 AM to 9 PM every day

Pho Da Cao on Urbanspoon

Anthony Bourdain tries Bun Bo Hue:
http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Anthony_Bourdain/Video/Tony_Samples_Vietnamese_Beef_Noodle_Soup
“Enraptured by Pho” essay:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/295557#1624717

Brian Schwartz: Author

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

13 Comments

  1. BrewBurger

    December 16, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Viet Huong is my place in Tulsa for Pho. Super friendly family has been running it for 20 years. They are at 21st and Memorial.

  2. Russell

    December 18, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Went for lunch yesterday. Very good food and really fresh, and clean. I was glad to see that most of the customers where Vietnamese. When I saw that many Vietnamese eating it reassured me that this indeed was the “real deal”. I am still looking for a place in Tulsa to get a Banh Mi sandwich. I have seen it featured on the food and travel channels often and they look absolutely delicious.

    • Brian Schwartz

      December 18, 2010 at 5:32 pm

      I’m really glad you liked it!!! If you are ever in OKC, I believe that Saigon Baguette has Banh Mi.

    • Brian Schwartz

      June 28, 2012 at 10:51 am

      I have heard that you can get a Banh Mi sandwich at this new Vietnamese restaurant:

      PHO V-NAM & VIETNAMESE SANDWICH
      8122 S. Harvard Ave.
      574-2888

  3. Kristin

    December 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I’ve been desperately looking for Pho places in Tulsa!! OKC
    is crawling with them and I haven’t been able to find anything
    here. Thanks for the post!

  4. Brian Schwartz

    December 23, 2010 at 11:14 am

    I had heard that the woman who ran — and was the chef at — Saigon Palace, the woman whose cooking was so good it made the restaurant famous, now owns, and cooks at, Pho Da Cao. But I didn’t write it in my review because it was just a rumor. Today the Tulsa World confirmed it.

    http://www.tulsaworld.com/scene/article.aspx?subjectID=274&articleID=20101223_458_WK17_CUTLIN516282

  5. Tulsa_ld

    December 30, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    -I admit, i am new to pho. Looking at the photo, i would
    like to ask: How do you eat it? Do you chopstick the noodles, spoon
    out the liquid, chop and spoon, spoon and chop, pick up the bowl
    and slurp? I want to try it but i don’t want to spill it all over
    myself trying to figure out the mystery of the pho!
    Tulsa_ld

    • Tara

      June 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      You eat Pho anyway it tastes best, chopsticks,spoon, and any other way you mentioned. ;-)

      • Tulsa_ld

        June 23, 2011 at 8:35 am

        -Tried the pho at Viet Huong…

        loved it. However, as anticipated, i got some on my shirt trying different delivery styles to my mouth. With that practice round out of the way, last month i visited Pho Da Cao for the wood decor. Well, and the Bun Bo Hue…

        loved it. And thanks to my practice run, no mess! I found both dishes equally-flavorful and both provided the usual culinary accoutrements to the dishes (sprouts, citrus, etc). The broth seemed the star in both dishes, but i enjoyed them. I must ask next time, though, if i can get a smaller order as i always seem to leave some behind.

        tulsa_ld

  6. Colin

    June 23, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Hmong Cafe, Tulsa. Hands down the superior Oklahoma pho experience. And at $6, you can go daily. Nice.

  7. seikel

    July 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Seeing as OKC has a extremely large Vietnamese population, the best pho in the state can be had around 23rd and Classen. By far.

  8. Chance

    August 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I had some vietnamese chicken wings once when I was in New Orleans and they may have been the best thing i’ve ever eaten, but have yet to find a place that serves them in OK. Have you ever seen them on a menu?

  9. SY

    October 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I am from HK and love Pho. Having found this place on tulsafood, I begged my friend to take me there when I was in town. We had been there a few times and food was excellent until the last time we went. I ordered a beef Pho and my friend ordered a seafood Pho, but his became a mix of beef and seafood when it arrived. He was a bit dissapointed but we did not send it back. By the end of our meal, before my friend finished his last few bites of noodles, he chewed on something and spit it out. I looked at it with astonishment, it was a small bandaid (you use on your little finger or small wound) with brown spots on it. Disgusted by this, we told the waitress and she informed tne boss lady. We saw the boss lady went into the kitchen, obviously she went to ask who had a wound. And honestly, if it were me i would not admit to it, do i want to be fired under this kind of economy? Of course you can guess what happened. The waitress came back and told us no one had a wound in the kitchen – hidden message – we put it there ourselves? We were totally dissapointed by how they handled it. They waived the noodle on the bill and I insisted on paying the rest of the bill. We were not there to scam anything, just wanted to enjoy a meal because we went there before and food had been good. But no more.

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