Pho Hien III

October 5, 2005 at 12:09 AM | Food, Good Times, Site/Personal, Wichita | No Comments

Pho HienWhen I first heard that my favorite eating establishment of all time, the Pho Hien II, was moving, I had mixed feelings about the news. It had been in the same location for so long that I really couldn’t picture myself driving to a different part of town to get my fix. Half of the experience of the place is driving down to that part of Wichita along the stretch of north Broadway that the Vietnamese community have somewhat adopted. It’s not the best part of town by any means, and I have rarely dared to venture out there to eat by myself. Or past 6PM.

But what keeps me coming back time and time again is their amazing pho. Because it’s not the atmosphere. And it’s most certainly not the service. But none of those other things really matter… I know this because I’ve been to some sparkling clean pho joints with excellent service before. But the food sucked. Or their cafe sua da sucked. Or both. And so I think my brother and I came up with a general rule of thumb: the more down to earth a pho joint is, the better the pho. Why is this? Because those places are more real.

But then I got word of where the Pho Hien II was moving to. Yes, they were moving all the way to a new Vietnamese strip mall… across the street. What a relief!

The other weekend, I was down in Wichita for Amanda’s wedding. That was a good one. It also happened to be the weekend of the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival, so I hung out with the family for a bit and ate a fair number of mooncakes.

Of course, every time that I am back in Wichita for any amount of time, you can be sure that I will fit in a lunch at the Pho Hien II, usually with Ryan, sometimes with Martin. This particular weekend, it was just Ryan and I. Going to the Pho Hien II is a treat in itself, but I was especially excited to be able to check out what all had changed at their new location.

Once we got there, I could already tell that some things were never going to be the same. First of all, the place was not called “Pho Hien III”, but just “Pho Hien.” I didn’t know why the other one had the “II” to begin with, but it seemed kind of illogical to discontinue the numbering scheme. Also, gone are the craters in the parking lot and the guerrilla-style parking that patrons frequently encountered back across the street. Still, signs of the old familiar were present inside… the twin pair of plastic bottles of hoisin sauce and Sriracha, the fish sauce in the re-used Kikkoman’s soy sauce bottle, all of the same people working, Vietnamese pop music in the background, the life-sized plastic eagle statue near the cash register… I never did figure out what was up with that eagle.

The new: fancier menus in place of the 1-sheet laminated paper menus, new (higher) prices, some kind of faux bamboo plant decoration sitting next to the condiments, two TVs mounted up high on either end of the place, and perhaps most shocking of all… a small disco ball hanging from the center of the restaurant. I was like “what… the…” because I mean, my god it’s a disco ball! Ryan suggested that the place gave off a vibe that it could be easily cleared out and rented out for other functions, like I dunno, parties n shit. And no party is complete without a disco ball. It seemed like the most plausible explanation and the tables and chairs certainly looked mobile enough for easy clearing out.

I ordered the #1 with extra noodles. I don’t know why… the #1 is pretty large as it is, but it seems to be the thing to do at the Vietnam Cafe up in KC. Call it habit. Or maybe I did it because I was just so excited to see the new Pho Hien that I had to celebrate by gorging myself with so much pho that I probably should have died that very day, right then and there. Yes, I never thought that I would say this… but I was maxed out on Pho. I’d never had so much of it before! So I refrained from pho for about a week and a half before getting some at the Vietnam Cafe.

But this is not to say that it wasn’t delicious. The joint has received a facelift, but it’s essentially the same ol’ place that it used to be. Good eating. Good times. Check it out if you’re in the area.

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