Pho Pacific aims to please with unusual menu
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
Ho Tran and his wife run this small eatery, next door to one of my favorite shops, It's Chili in Hawaii, an emporium of heat and a shrine to the almighty chili pepper.
I asked Tran about the pizza and Italian part of his menu and how it fits into his Vietnamese background. "It doesn't really, but people love pizza, and I want to make it for them," was his response.
One day I tried the pizza special, topped with sauteed spicy lemongrass chicken ($4.50 on special; normally $5.99); another day, the pizza special was topped with shredded barbecued duck. These were both quite good and showed creativity. The restaurant makes a super seafood pizza ($15.99 for a medium, $19.99 for an extra-large) that contains shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. And of course, all the standard toppings are available for those who need their pepperoni or Italian-sausage fix.
Italian dishes include lasagna (or ravioli) with meat sauce ($6.50); fettuccine Alfredo ($7.50); antipasto salad ($6.50); calzone ($7.99); and an Italian submarine ($7.50) with ham, pepperoni, salami and cheese.
But what I come here for is the Vietnamese food. The pho (a rich noodle soup, $5.99 to $6.50) is quite good fragrant and addicting. A large plate of fresh basil, bean sprouts and lime wedges is brought with the soup to perk it up, if you wish. Various protein choices can be ordered for the the soup, including round steak, beef tendon, meatballs, chicken, shrimp or tofu. If you're a lover of textures, this soup will please: hot, wet noodles to slurp, herbs and veggies add that refreshing crunch, and meat adds a certain chewiness.
The spring rolls ($5.99 for five finger-sized ones) arrive without an iota of grease, accompanied by lettuce leaves, cucumber slices, basil leaves, and some cool, unsauced rice vermicelli. The dipping sauce here is different than that served at other places. It's a fish-sauce base that's slightly sweet, brownish, and quite thin in consistency, a pleasing change of pace. I enjoy rolling up my spring rolls in a lettuce leaf, along with all the other goodies on the plate, before I dip. The summer rolls ($3.99) are light and healthy, combining lettuce, vermicelli and shrimp, wrapped tightly in a chewy rice wrapper.
The ubiquitous hot chili sauce, Sriracha brand, and another hot sauce are on your table, along with soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, and a dark, thick and sweet hoisin, allowing you to customize your bites.
When it comes to bun (pronounced boon) dishes big bowls of cold rice vermicelli with various accompaniments, such as a noodle salad that you dress yourself (all $5.99, except shrimp at $6.99) the condiments come in quite handy. The noodles come with lettuce, fresh mint leaves, basil and sprouts mixed in, and you choose what you'd like for a topping, including barbecue shrimp, chicken, beef or pork, egg rolls or lemongrass chicken. This is such a satisfying dish.
If you prefer a rice plate, pork chop with egg and meatball, kal bi, and garlic shrimp (each $6.99) are very good choices. The shredded green-papaya salad with shrimp ($5.99) is a perfectly refreshing accompaniment to these rice and noodle dishes. It's tossed with a slightly tart-sweet homemade dressing.
If you feel like something sweet, cold and creamy to drink with dinner, try the pearl tapioca drinks ($2.99). The honeydew was yummy, but there also are mocha, taro, strawberry, coconut and espresso flavors. My preference is the iced Vietnamese coffee ($1.75) with sweetened condensed milk, a treat that's delicious and bound to give you a caffeine-sugar buzz.
Altogether, Pho Pacific is a good little neighborhood place with conveniently long hours. It's also very affordable, and it's run by nice people.
Reach Matthew Gray at email@example.com.