|Pho PDX Brief Review|
|Overall||Service||Food Quality||Atmosphere||Vegan Options|
|Location: 827 SW 2nd Ave Portland, OR 97204|
|Hours: Lunch||Times Visited: 6|
When we learned that the folks behind Pho Green Papaya opened Pho PDX within equal walking distance to both of the Stumptown Vegans’ downtown offices, we were stoked. Word around town is that the existing Pho Green Papaya (which was under different management than Green Papaya) is now under new management itself, hence the new Pho spot downtown with a similar vegan menu, featuring eight vegan options. We’ll get to the point early – we welcome Pho PDX as a consistently pleasant and stable downtown vegan lunch option.
When paying $6-7 for lunch, it better be good and it better give us leftovers. All of our meals at Pho PDX have given us leftovers, and all but one have been good, if not almost great. Within it’s first few days of opening, one Stumptown Vegan stopped by for the Buddha’s Delight. It looked like a colorful, vegetable-packed, and saucy large dish, but it came down to a saucy, large dish. There tons of vegetables, but they were at different stages of cooked, and the sauce was similar to the bottled ‘mushroom soy sauce’ in her fridge at home and the rice was undercooked. Crunchy rice on an inaugural meal, plus the reviewer’s least favorite type of mushrooms, did not result in a positive visit. It was the other Stumptown Vegan’s fresh review of the previous incarnation of the restaurant, and the awful yet comfortable food court style seating that brought her back so quickly.
Since Pho PDX is located in the “international food court” on SW 2nd, and shares the two level seating area with Gandhi’s, and whatever other restaurant sets up camp on the ground floor. It’s arguable how much control Pho PDX has over the cleanliness and decor. With that said, one reviewer sees the space as an 80’s McDonalds with the cleanliness of a a gas station. The old brick walls clash with the smooth, newish brick covered floors. The framed posters cry-out to make a bad joke about the 80’s wanting their posters back. The other reviewer sees the the tackiness as having turned the corner to ironic. No matter how we see it, we can always get our food to go or claim an empty corner for our lunch break.
When you enter, walk deep into the building until you reach the black and bright green signs for Pho PDX. Order your food off the eight item vegan menu. The friendly and attentive staff will sign you a number and soon after, deliver your food, trying not to spill the tofu on the walk upstairs, where they suggest you sit. We have had the displeasure of waiting over 30 minutes before, but this is rare, most food is devilvered within 10 minutes. There is plenty of seating, mainly 2-4 chair tables. Each table has a stand of hoisin, soy sauce, and Srichacha for your additional flavor needs. Individual sitting is also available at the few bar spaces scattered around on both the ground and second floor seating. If the International Foor Court only appears to be unclean because of the age, it was nice to discover that the ladies room was extremely clean.
On the vegan menu, there are two very similar vegan options, the Coconut Curry with Rice and the Coconut Curry Noodle Soup. The Coconut Curry with Rice can be served over rice or with udon noodles. It was ordered with noodles, which was presented inside a lovely lidded bowl, brothy, and piping hot. While the noodles were a fun treat in the spicy and sweet broth and fun to wrap around a piece of tofu or vegetable, we recommend opting for the rice to soak up the deliciously addictive broth. With rice, you could be getting more for your money and tastefully stretching that $7! As it was, this dish gave a Stumptown Vegan three separate meals.
The Tofu Salad Bún is a traditional Vietnamese dish with a base of cold rice vermicilli noodles. It is a layered mix of shredded, fried tofu, rice noodles, shredded lettuce, cabbage, cilantro, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and a bit of spice. It is served with a small bowl of a vinegar/soy dressing, which is tangy and should not be tossed on but rather dip your fork before gathering the salad because it is an intense flavor. The menu states that this includes roasted rice and sesame seasonings, which we think is the topping on the noodles, but it’s not quite identifiable. There was a bit of spice on the tofu, but not identifiably so. Despite the question of spice, this is a dish you can dress to your own liking with the provided sauce and table side condiments.Though not on the same playing field as the scrumptious Roasted Gluten Bun at Nhut Quang, it’s still a quickly made cool lunch for a warm day.
The Pho is a huge serving of rice noodles, red and green onions, green beans, tofu, and pepper in a light miso broth. The soup is served with a side of fresh toppings: bean sprouts, chillies, basil, and lime. When the Stumptown Vegans last visited Pho Green Papaya we found the broth to be rich and flavorful. This visit, we found the broth to be diluted and much less flavorful, though still enjoyable. The firm tofu is of the unfried and unseasoned variety not adding much to the dish beside substance. We enjoyed all the vegetables in the dish – they had a nice crunch of freshness to them, but overall, it was underwhelming from what we once knew of their Pho. Here’s hoping this was a one-time flaw.
The Jade Noodles was a Stumptown Vegans’ favorite at Pho Green Papaya. The green noodles, bright, fresh vegetables, and sweet, but savory sauce, were wonderful any day. This same Stumptown Vegan found the noodles and vegetables to be the same at Pho PDX but the sauce was a bit different. Once again, it seemed diluted, though still enjoyable. Had this reviewer not had the other dish she would much more pleased with Pho PDX’s dish. Since having two dishes that lacked the flavor this reviewer has to wonder if this is going to continue or if this was a two-time fluke in diluted flavors.
A caution when ordering based on their spice rating. The menu states to pick your heat, which is by the teaspoon, and they do mean that literally. Just look at the photo of the Coconut Curry Noodles below – it was just spicy enough to not have our eyes and nose watering. Even those who enjoy their food hot have had a hard time with a spice rating of one. If you are sensitive to heat, we suggest requesting no additional heat and using the spice condiments on the table to reach your desired level. If you like it hot, opt for one level of spice and again, use the provided spice. The teaspoon ratingsystem can be misleading and too much spice could ruin an otherwise good dish.
After 5 meals and additional leftovers, we’re down to ‘good’. Of course we’re sad that Pho Green Papaya is no longer as vegan friendly, but we’re happy to have another vegan friendly downtown lunch option. We found some vegetables to be super fresh, some to be not-so-fresh, and in general, dishes not as flavorful as we’d like. The food is better, and reliably vegan friendly, verses the food at most food carts and Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, so to that wer’re grateful and we will return many times.