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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pho 43’s Vietnamese Specialties

Menu highlighted by authentic soup, noodle dishes

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If Vietnam named a national dish, it likely would be pho, a rice noodle soup that comes in many varieties. Pho, most often made with beef, is a common sight among Vietnamese street vendors, and numerous restaurants devote their menus to the soup. It can be found at all of our local Vietnamese restaurants, including the recently opened and aptly named Pho 43.

Pho 43 is located in a small strip mall in an area where all of the other restaurants are chains. The modest interior consists of very spare décor, with tables and chairs made of gleaming metal and walls featuring brilliant red accents. If you peek into the kitchen, you will see large kettles of steaming broth, the foundation of pho.

Ten different phos ($5.25-$6.25) are served here. One is made with chicken, another shrimp, and the remainder with various cuts of beef. Pho tai chin is a classic example. In addition to rice noodles, the bowl has thin slices of round steak and brisket. The two cuts differ, with the brisket being richer in flavor. Pho bo vien has beef meatballs and pho thap cam uses all of the above and then adds tripe to the mix. A few chopped scallions top the serving, but at this point the pho needs some doctoring. Each table has condiments, including soy sauce, hoisin sauce and two different chile sauces. The pho also arrives with a separate plate of fresh bean sprouts, basil leaves, sliced jalapenos and limes. The lime is essential for good flavor.

While pho makes up the heart of the menu, you will also find numerous rice and noodle dishes as well as a few appetizers. Goi cuon ($3) are two spring rolls with fresh rice paper wrappers and a filling of rice noodles with shrimp and roast pork. Sweet hoisin sauce with peanuts and a bit of carrot and daikon radish come on the side. Cha gio ($3), deep-fried egg rolls filled with pork and cellophane noodles, is also good. Ca vien chien ($3.25) is two bamboo skewers of fish meatballs. The fish is unmistakably catfish, which takes to hoisin sauce well. Skip the banh mi chien tom ($3.25), a dull serving of bread topped with shrimp.

Pork appears in many dishes. Com bi soun cha ($7.25) is a rice dish that uses pork in three ways. First is ground pork that is topped with egg, a Vietnamese version of quiche. The second is a grilled marinated pork chop that Vietnamese restaurants always prepare so well. The third is pork skin that tops the rice. The skin is shredded into slivers finer than angel-hair pasta. It is pleasantly spiced and preferable to tripe.

A few dishes are indicated as spicy, including tom xao xa ot ($7.95), which is shrimp with onion and straw mushrooms. Lemongrass is promised but barely detectable, and the spicing level is mild. This menu has better options.

Vegetarians are accommodated with seven entrees, most of which use tofu in place of meat.

The kitchen can be slow when the restaurant is busy. Order the pho if you are in a hurry, as it always arrives quickly. The beverage list is minimal. No alcohol is served, but the iced coffee is good. Pho 43 might not have the biggest menu, but it makes a decent bowl of pho. n

Pho 43

2155 Miller Park Way

414-383-2425

$

Credit Cards: MC, VS, DS

Smoke-Free

Handicap Access: Yes