Labor Day is now a distant memory, which means children across the area have made their way back to school. With classes back in session, so too is the lunchtime ritual of dining in the school cafeteria. While many adults can’t partake in the cafeteria lunches from the days of yore, those wishing to conjure up a bit of that nostalgia might make their way to Pho 75.
The long rows of tables and chairs running across the frill-free restaurant make the first reminiscent impression, and are supported by the clanging sounds of a hard (and fast)-at-work staff coming from the kitchen. Upon finding a seat – a choice less challenging than in those school days – customers are presented with a laminated menu of few options. As the restaurant’s name might suggest, those dining here are getting pho, the Vietnamese rice noodle soup. Guests do, however, have their pick of several varieties of beef, along with a sole chicken option, to customize the pho experience. A list of 17 different bowls lets diners in on the chef’s suggestions, but when these various accents are dipped into the richly flavorful broth this spot serves, a wrong choice can hardly be made.
A large bowl of pho costs $7.75, and a regular bowl sets diners back $6.75. It’s not hard to see why Pho 75 – a chain of several restaurants in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania – has yet again earned its place on the Washingtonian Cheap Eats list for 2011. And 2010. And 2009. In fact, along with large sun-bleached photographs of Vietnamese life, Pho 75 decorates the restaurant with the many plaques from its longstanding Cheap Eats title.
Pho 75 has not, however, sacrificed quality to keep prices low. The broth has a powerful beef flavor, heavy with fatty flavors (the proof of which can be found in the slippery coating that forms in the mouth after several spoonfuls of the stuff). The meat selections are admirable, and served in such a way that as the hot broth naturally cooks the pieces of meat, they are never too tough or raw to be enjoyed. Be it the meaty strips of flank steak, the fat-lined pieces of brisket, or the chewy bits of tripe, each meat brings its own flavor and texture to the dish. The meatballs are of note for their excellent, light flavor and surprisingly chewy texture (as opposed to the tender, heavily seasoned meatballs that might accompany a plate of spaghetti).
While these cheap bowls of pho comes to the table quite quickly, with steam coming up off of a practically bubbling surface, diners should settle in for a long meal. This is not a sandwich that is gone in a few bites, this is an adventure of noodle spinning, broth slurping and flavor experimenting (courtesy of the pepper pieces, lime slices, bean sprouts, basil, hot sauce and plum sauce that accompany each bowl).
Specialty drinks add to the dining experience, though unlike the chocolate milk or white milk options of its mirror, this restaurant offers caffeinated and decadent drinks like a super-sweetened lemonade and a house Vietnamese coffee. This coffee, be it served piping hot or over ice, is just as strong as it is flavorful (very), and can be ordered with condensed milk for an indulgent sweetness.
Be it for the cheap eats, or the chance to slurp on long slippery noodles and be a kid again, this noodle house is a solid pick for a simple meal.
Pho 75 is located at 3103 Graham Road, Falls Church. For more information, call 703-204-1490. Restaurant hours are Monday – Sunday: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.