217 A Quincy Ave, Quincy
Open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. all other days
Full liquor license
Credit cards accepted
Fall weather makes me crave hot soup, the ultimate in comfort food when the winds pick up and the temperature plummets. A quick Google search found no restaurants in this area specializing in soup, until I broadened the parameters to include pho — the classic broth-based, noodle dish of Vietnam.
And that led me to Pho Countryside in Quincy. Thank you, Google.
Pho Countryside opened a year ago in President Plaza on Quincy Avenue, sandwiched between a Dollar Tree store and a seafood restaurant. It’s part of a bustling strip mall that includes the Asian supermarket Kam Man Food, a karaoke sports bar, and the more established and far larger China Pearl restaurant.
Bao Trinh and his wife, Jennifer, renovated what had been a cafeteria-style pho restaurant, turning it into a pleasant, airy space with lines of booths and tables. On the walls, a large mural and smaller framed pictures feature the Vietnamese countryside where Trinh grew up. There’s a small bar in the back and several large televisions scattered around the room, which was decorated for Halloween when I was there, with sparkling pumpkins arranged on surfaces and a giant fuzzy spider on the wall.
This is the first restaurant venture for the couple, who are Vietnamese and have four small children. Bao was in the Marine Corps and a policeman in Texas, and they ran a nail salon in South Boston, with family, to raise the money to open Pho Countryside.
“Most of the [other] Vietnamese restaurants here are not modern, just plain tables, no fuss, no decorations,” Jennifer said. “We wanted people to sit and enjoy, not just eat and go. We wanted all ages, all types.”
The approach seems to be working. On a Monday at noon, the tables were filled with families, young couples, men in suits, and groups of older people. Many are Asian, but a range of ethnicities was represented.
I’m there with my friend Marie, who recently returned from a vacation in Vietnam. The food at Pho Countryside, she assures me, is authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
It’s also delicious, visually arresting, and intoxicatingly aromatic.
The breadth of choices is a bit daunting. The seven-page menu, which is in English and Chinese and includes helpful photos for the uninitiated, covers everything from appetizers such as Vietnamese-style jellyfish, shrimp, pork and lotus stem salad, to vast numbers of rice and noodle dishes, and 14 kinds of pho.
We start with an order of goi cuon, two fresh spring rolls ($4) served with dipping sauces. The rolls are cold and refreshing, the ingredients fresh.
From there, we move on to the pho (small $7; large $8; x-large $9). We opt for small; Marie gets the pho tai, a beef rice-noodle soup with eye of round steak, and I get pho ga, the chicken version.
Huge bowls of steaming hot soup arrive accompanied by a plate overflowing with a mound of bean sprouts surrounded by lime wedges and topped by stems of fresh basil.
The drill, I learn, is to squeeze on lime and add the sprouts and basil, followed by a swirl of hot sriracha chili sauce. (My friend eschewed the customary hoisin sauce, which was provided at the table, in favor of spicier condiments.) The flavor is rich and complicated — with hints of cilantro, star anise, ginger, and onion — testament to a broth that has cooked for hours.
We also order a bun countryside ($11) to share. The large bowl of vermicelli is topped with strips of meltingly tender grilled pork, grilled shrimp, grilled pork patties, fried egg roll, grilled shrimp paste wrapped in sugar cane, and a pickley blend of lettuce, mint, and bean sprouts. Delicious.
On a second visit, I take home a similar dish for my family, an order of com tam countryside ($13), which features a bed of steamed rice topped with a tender grilled pork chop, Chinese sausage, shrimp paste wrapped in bean curd skin, pork egg custard, shredded pork skin and a fried egg, with salad ingredients on the side.
I can’t wait to go back with friends for the hot pot — goat, seafood, or the spicy seafood and steak combination (small $33; large $43). And the chim cut roti — marinated roasted quail sautéed with scallions and peppers — is calling me.