On an unseasonably hot spring day recently, lunch customers keep coming in to the cool, airy dining room of Pho So 1 in Fields Corner, where they are greeted by an exuberant waiter. The popular 60-seat spot lost its license briefly in March for serving customers past closing time. It reopened, renovated, bright, and spotless. New tables are slabs of marble under hanging pendant lights with flat-screens around the room.
A man leaning over a newspaper at one table is making quick work of his pho. Two young men sit down, then one gets up and redoes his man bun, tipping his head dramatically upside down and pulling all the strands together on top of his crown (quite a demo; I thought of taping it for a YouTube instructional). A group of four impossibly thin, stylish women, barely out of their teens, sit together and look at their phones without saying a word, except to order. They ignore a special “teen menu” of fish balls and other snacks in favor of sizzling platters of beef, which come with loaves of bread and fries. We can hear and smell the aromas from our table and watch them plow through the protein and carbs tiny bite by tiny bite.
That sizzling platter ($10.95), called Napoleon beef, is posted on a specials board at the entrance in Vietnamese (ask for a translation). The dish is a beautiful sight, sweet, caramelized meat in a delicious garlicky soy-ketchup sauce; sliced tomatoes with finely cut raw onion rings; a generous smear of pate; and a crisp fried egg. The bread is for soaking up sauce and spreading pate; the fries are the frozen crinkle-cut kind, which manage to taste better here than anywhere.
Fried chicken wings ($8.25) come to the table so hot that I can hardly pick up the little bones. The meat is deliciously spicy and juicy. “I think I need another,” says my friend as we clean the bones till they’re bare.
Roast quail on shredded lettuce and cucumber ($8.25) is dark, intense, sweet, and salty. Fresh spring rolls ($3.95) are tight, crisp bundles of lettuce, cucumbers, and shrimp with a thick peanut sauce. Shrimp on sugarcane ($6.95) looks like petals of ground shrimp, dipped in batter and fried, and though the insides are juicy, they are bland and the batter is flabby.
Fried rice with roast cut-up, bone-in chicken ($11.95) is so good that several pairs of chopsticks compete for the last grains. This fried rice isn’t golden or crisp, but loaded with flavor. The dish is garnished with bright, long-stemmed crunchy spinach.
Pho ($7.25-$9.50) here has outstanding broth. Pho ga with shredded chicken comes with a big bowl of bean sprouts, Thai basil, and lime. Pho tai bo vien features chewy eye-round steak and dense, satisfying meatballs in delicious beef broth.
Owner Hoang Nguyen says this Pho So is not related to another restaurant of the same name in Randolph. He seems to have a huge staff on hand in Dorchester, all amiable. But one afternoon, when two of us are the only customers sipping pho, it’s impossible to get anyone’s attention. The sprout/basil/lime garnish never arrives, and I eventually get up from the table to fetch a second pair of chopsticks.
Vietnamese bun ($8.25-
$11.75), with its array of textures and flavors, is irresistible. All versions come as a big bowl of rice noodles, finely shredded carrots and cucumbers, sprouts, and mint, with a sweet vinegary dressing to pour over. Bun bi cha gio includes sweet slices of roast pork and slender, succulent little fried egg rolls.
Bun thit nuong dau Hu Ky combines more of that caramelized pork, along with fried tofu skin — the film that forms on the surface of soy milk, fried until golden, crisp, crunchy, and tender inside. It’s fabulous.
Pho So 1, welcome back.
PHO SO 1 BOSTON
223 Adams St., Fields Corner, Dorchester, 617-436-8888. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $3.95-$15. Pho $7.25-$9.50. Rice specials, rice plates, noodles, vermicelli bowls $8.50-$34.95 (most under $10). Desserts $3.50-$3.95.
Hours Daily 10 a.m.-midnight.
What to order Chicken wings, vermicelli with pork and egg rolls, vermicelli with fried tofu and pork, pho ga (pho with chicken), pho with eye round and meatballs, roast chicken with fried rice, Napoleon beef.