We know. It’s hot. It’s summer in Oklahoma. Cool down by sampling cocktails that local bars and restaurants have concocted just for you. Find a nice, air conditioned space or a shaded patio and while away the hours drinking the flavors of summer. You might decide it’s not that bad after all.
— by Devon Green, photos by Mark Hancock, Shannon Cornman and Lauren Hamilton
There are a wealth of new local eateries cropping up in the metro and even more coming. If they’re not on your radar, they should be. From the comfy atmosphere at The Barrel on Western Avenue to the laid-back vibe at the Plaza District’s coffee shop, you might find a new regular hangout.
— by Devon Green, photos by Mark Hancock and Shannon Cornman
Pho Thai Nguyen
3221 N. Classen Blvd.
What works: tasty dishes for all experience levels
What needs work: Pho broth could be hotter.
Tips: free hot tea! Also, the place takes credit cards, which is nice.
Wonderful things happen when you’re not quite sure what’s happening.
I think it’s fair to say there is a bit of a language barrier at some local restaurants. It is something to be expected when sampling the cuisine of foreign lands, especially at restaurants noted for authentic flavors. Sometimes foreign accents come with them.
So I hope I’m not being insulting to the good people at Pho Thai Nguyen when I say that sometimes I have no idea what is being said to me. I merely smile, nod happily and await whatever thrilling thing I’ve just agreed to eat being delivered to my table.
In fairness to the employees of Pho Thai Nguyen, it is probably a little confusing; I’m always ordering enough food for several families. That may account for some of the miscommunication.
One pretty reliable thing about a place with “pho” in its name is that it serves pho, that delightful mix of noodles, spiced beef broth, meat, onions and any number of other sauces, leaves, sprouts, peppers, etc., that you would like to add in yourself. And at Pho Thai Nguyen, you get your choice of small, medium and “Oh my god, Becky! Look at her butt!” large ($6.49/$6.99/$7.99).
Baby got pho. For beginners, try the brisket and/or the rare steak. Experts can go a bit deeper, with things like tendon and tripe. My only gripe about Pho Thai Nguyen’s pho is that it comes out at the right temperature to eat. I know that doesn’t seem like a problem, but as pho cools, the broth can get a little mealy and congealy.
When it arrives too hot to sip, it’ll stay the right temp to drink longer after you’ve destroyed the noodles, meat and what have you.
Unlike most pho joints, Nguyen has a large menu with a myriad of other tasty options. Like, for instance, Chao Gio — the rice porridge with pork ($7.50). Very similar to the congee you might get at Golden Phoenix, the rice porridge here comes with more kinds of pork than you might first realize. Lurking below the surface are whole chunks of bone-in pork, pieces of meat and cubes. Reddish-brown cubes. Cubes of pork blood.
Listen. If this isn’t your thing, I get it. But it’s not bad. It’s not really anything. They don’t melt, they don’t taste very strongly, and they’re kind of a fun novelty.
“What was in your lunch? Turkey sandwich? Huh. I had gelatinized cubes of pork blood.”
More important, the rice and broth porridge tasted phenomenal with lots of green onions and rich, roasted pork flavor. I am a fan.
Want something a bit more mainstream? Try noodle bowls ($7.49 for pork). Lots of tasty noodles, lettuce, your choice of meats. Some assembly required, as you should really mix that whole bowl up for the best effect.
Or get a grilled meat plate, which gives you a nice mound of rice and some expertly cooked, grilled meat with a few veggies ($7.49 for pork). My friend and I both got the pork — it’s clear he and I have a vendetta against swine, so deal with it — because the restaurant cooks it just right. Tender, juicy, but with lots of that grill flavor.
There’s so much more on that menu. Basics like egg rolls and fried rice are there for the weak of heart, but there’s deep-fried crab and Vietnamese coffee for those of you who thirst for adventure. And crab.
And if you go to Pho Thai Nguyen and something shows up and you’re not sure what it is, take a bite. Then ask your server about it. If you go the other way around, you might miss out on something cool and new and weird.
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.