Bringing authentic Vietnamese flavors to Ephrata’s pho fans
How far would you travel for your favorite meal?
Ephrata chefs Kalvin Thach and Sia Vang were tired of driving miles and miles for authentic pho flavors. So they opened a restaurant right in their hometown. Born out of a love for all things pho, Phoenix Noodle House opened its doors in Ephrata in November.
The restaurant brings the county’s increasing love for pho – a Vietnamese soup and noodle dish – to diners who live outside of downtown Lancaster.
“We grew very tired of having to travel to Lancaster or Philly for good pho, so we decided to open one in our hometown,” says Thach, who co-owns Phoenix with his girlfriend, Vang.
Comprised of meaty broth, thin rice noodles and tender beef slices, pho is catching up to chicken noodle soup as America’s favorite comfort food.
In fact, it ranks among the top 25 main dishes found on the National Restaurant Association What’s Hot list for 2014.
And when it comes to pho, the chefs at Phoenix promise nothing less than authentic.
“I am part Vietnamese and grew up in Philly,” Thach says. “My mother taught me at a very young age the spices and cooking methods of various Southeast Asian cuisines, including traditional pho noodle soup.”
This childhood discipline – in combination with Vang’s professional experience in the restaurant industry – has resulted in a menu packed full of savory and spicy offerings.
Vang, who is Hmong, has been cooking all her life.
“Her knowledge of Thai dishes and spices are out of this world,” says Thach.
Encouraged by friends and family to share their recipes with the public, Thach and Vang began their restaurant blueprint in 2012.
“We both share a passion for food. We would travel many miles just to check out the hot spots for pho. We also have been making our own homemade pho and everyone who tried it loved it,” says Thach.
When a space opened on Ephrata’s Main Street (formerly housing Greco’s Italian Ice), the pair knew there was no better time to purchase. After nearly $80,000 in renovations, Phoenix opened its doors on November 4.
Those who dine at Phoenix are treated to a host of traditional Vietnamese entrees, all under $10: pho noodle soup, banh mi sandwiches (Vietnamese hoagies), appetizers such as summer rolls and coconut shrimp and an array of bubble tea flavors.
Eager to sample Phoenix’s authentic Vietnamese cuisine, I dined there on a chilly Friday night in December. The menu offered the perfect mix of comfort food (think boiling, aromatic soup) as well as dishes for daring diners (spicy salads, beef tripe and tendon, and an option to add your own peppers).
My dinner companion and I were greeted with a complimentary kettle of hot green tea along with prompt, friendly service.
An appetizer of fresh summer rolls – herbs, crispy bean sprouts and vermicelli noodles wrapped in rice paper – served with sweet peanut sauce was the perfect way to start off the meal. It also warmed up my taste buds for a much more daring dish, Som Tam (Thai for “papaya salad”).
“This one is for the adventurous foodie,” says Thach. “The flavors are all authentic Thai and pack a mean punch. Many have tried it and loved it.”
The dish – a blend of shredded, unripe papaya tossed with tomatoes, shredded carrots, string beans, garlic and cabbage in a spicy fish sauce – was unlike anything I had ever tasted. I even had the option to add up to five peppers to turn up the heat (two peppers proved to be enough for this semi-daring diner).
For those seeking something a little less spicy, Phoenix offers a toned-down version of the dish.
“There is also a contemporary alternative to the authentic Som Tam which itself explodes in freshness,” says Thach.
As promised, the real star of the table was the pho. The aromatic soup is steeped in tradition tracing back to 19th-century Vietnam.
“We are very proud of all our creations here and extremely happy to say that our pho soup is made fresh every day – the slow, good old traditional way,” says Thach.
The soup features hot, savory beef broth and rice noodles simmered for hours before serving. Phoenix’s pho offerings include beef in every variety: brisket, steak, sliced, tripe, or tendon (hey, I never said this was for vegetarians). Chicken is available as well.
Standard garnishes include bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno peppers, onions and fresh basil leaves, allowing diners to magnify their favorite pho flavors.
I decided on Thach’s favorite dish, the Pho Special.
“The tendons and tripe are cooked to perfection, the brisket has a savory buttery flavor and the thinly sliced beef…mmm,” he trails off.
Thach’s praise was well-placed. The dish – served boiling hot – features brisket, thinly sliced beef, beef tendon and a tripe beef ball all cooked to a delicious, medium-rare consistency that soaks in every ounce of sweet broth and seasoning.
My dining companion ordered pho with chicken, an equally delicious dish with thinly sliced meat and a slightly more salty flavor.
For cold winter months, Phoenix’s hot milk coffee is the perfect post-dinner indulgence. And I can’t wait to return this summer to sample cold bubble tea and slushies in unique flavors such as avocado, honeydew and taro.
You may notice that besides of a few paintings, the walls at Phoenix remain undecorated. That’s not without intent.
“Our motto is ‘Unity through food and art’. And we truly mean that. We have intentionally left our walls free of art so local artists – or any artists interested – can hang and even sell their art through us. We charge absolutely zero dollars. No fees or charges, regardless if the art is sold or not. Just come in and claim a space,” says Thach.
A passion for delivering authentic Vietnamese fare to the community is evident not in just Thach’s words, but his cooking. Pho lovers need a place to go outside of downtown Lancaster. Phoenix Noodle House recognizes that – and they certainly deliver. And much like the fiery phoenix itself, their menu brings bright flavors and a hint of heat to make for a truly memorable dining experience.
• 119 East Main Street, Ephrata; 738-9857
• Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
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