Here’s a little secret...SHHHH!!! We got a tip from those in the know - and by that I mean some of Fairfield County’s finest chefs - that the place “around town” for truly authentic Vietnamese Pho is PHO HONG THOM on Wood Ave in Bridgeport. Naturally, we FORCED ourselves to give it a try. Tiny, unpretentious, even down-right plain, patrons come here for the food, not the decor. But they come. Empty when we arrived at 11:30 but jam packed by noon, PHO HONG THOM draws ‘em in and keeps ‘em coming back for more. Here’s why:
PHO HONG THOM gets its name from Hong and Thom Nguyen, owners of this family-run establishment in the heart of Bridgeport. Originally from a tiny village near Hanoi, the Nguyen family are "all in” with sons and a daughter helping out whenever possible. This is family cooking at its best and you get a hint of that as a mosaic of flavors greet your nose upon arrival. Broth is at the heart of this menu - and I’ll tell you what Pho.
Pho is broth made from simmering various beef parts with aromatics. Though the etymology of the word is up for debate, the most likely origin is from the French word for fire, “feu,” and that is how the dish is supposed to be pronounced. And the similarities between Pho and ”pot-au-feu” are striking. (Modern Vietnamese cuisine is, clearly, a fusion of Southeast Asian ingredients and some French techniques imported during the French Protectorate). But where the French version is all beef and veg, Vietnamese Pho contains rice noodles, veg and various combinations of meats and spices (featuring the fragrant star anise).
We tried the PHO GA - simple pho with chicken - but there was nothing simple about the flavor. Infused with lemongrass and star anise, the broth had depth and complexity. The BUN BO HUE was also spectacular with thinly sliced spicy beef and a definitive clove and cinnamon influence. Our third broth-based tureen was the Mi HOANH THANH. Here, delicate wonton chicken dumplings floated lazily in the shrimp and noodle soup while juicy shrimp awaited at the bottom of the bowl. Sliced jalapenos added a welcome amount of heat to the salty bullion. We wished there had been a few more wontons in the broth but, better to be Won-ton more...Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
For each broth, the sides - plenty of bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, basil and juicy lime wedges - added brightness and tang to the beefy, rich broth. Add some hoisin, regular chili sauce, Nước mắm pha (mixed fish sauce) or my personal favorite, Sriracha, and you’re golden. We're talking crazy good.
And there are plenty of options in case you’re not into noodle soup. Definitely sample the BAHN MI, the classic Vietnamese sandwich. Again, the French influence is clear as Bahn MI is served on an airy version of a baguette. Ours was the BAHN MI HEO NUONG with tender, grilled pork, the classic pickled vegetables, scallion and cilantro. Lighter than a its French counterpart and a total BARGAIN at $3.50, the BAHN MI can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters and beef can replace the pork if desired. I can’t imagine that there are people out there that couldn’t find a noodle soup they would enjoy but for picky palates, the BAHN MI will do the trick.
Also excellent was the COM THIT NUONG, a rice platter with grilled pork and sauteed scallions. Spicy chili sauce added spark to the dish and fresh, icy cold cucumbers added crunch and texture. It’s a party on your tongue.
Next visit, we must try the Chef’s special GOI CUON or summer rolls, as they looked amazing at the table next to ours - rice noodles with plump shrimp or veggies inside. They looked like the perfect lunch choice for a hot, summer’s day.
And to finish it off, a tall glass of CA PHE SUA DA - otherwise known as Vietnamese Ice Coffee. Intense, almost chocolatey espresso was blended with condensed milk (although honestly, nothing can be bad with condensed milk!) and tumbled into a glass of ice cubes. Rich and ridiculously satisfying, this was dessert.
If it is Boba Tea you’re after, PHO HONG THOM serves it up but only late in the afternoon. Our lunch feast was too early for a sampling but it will be on our order the next time around. And there will be plenty of those. Again, PHO HONG THOM is a small establishment with limited seating and very sparse decor. This may not be the romantic spot where you propose to your loved one or where you take your client to try to impress - unless of course the client is impressed with real, bona fide PHO and other Vietnamese dishes at their finest. And as far as a proposal - well PHO HONG THOM? I Do.
PHO HONG THOM is located at 48 Wood Ave in Bridgeport. It is open 7 days a week from 10 am - 8:00 pm. Credit cards accepted.