“That’s it,” I overheard a man say with a smile, holding his takeout order as he joked about having come in four days in a row. The word is out downtown...Pho 170, M’town’s newest/latest, is busy. The service is friendly and attentive, showing this new kid on the block is already in the groove, cranking out fresh and delicious dishes—both Vietnamese and Thai.
It’s not been quite three weeks since Viengthong Charonesuk opened the doors to her newest restaurant. And, unlike so many other spots when they first get started, everything’s well under control. Even on a night when they were one person short on the waitstaff, they pulled everything off without a hitch. Vieng hails most recently from Bann Thai in Cheshire, and she’s run restaurants in other locations across the state as well. Little things, like making sure you have extra plates when you share a dish, aren’t overlooked. And it’s always a nice touch when your water glass is refilled before you even need to ask.
Locals will recall the familiar long, wooden counter that provides a prime view to the kitchen action. You can watch your meal—and everyone else’s—come together in a fiery wok.Or, if you prefer, find your spot at one of the tables. It’s casual, clean and bustling. And, even better, it’s tasty and affordable, with plenty of options beyond pho.
Shrimp and pork fresh rolls, served with a thin, sweet chili sauce, topped generously with crushed peanuts, are a delicious starter. Out of all the appetizers I’ve tried so far, these are probably my very favorite. They come cut in half, making them much easier to eat and enjoy.
Right up there with top billing is Crab Rangoon. Rather than something that tastes as though a crab gingerly side-stepped through, these artfully folded pockets are loaded with a creamy, crabby filling. They’re served with a sweet chili sauce.
Not a fan of crab? Crispy spring rolls, filled with chicken or vegetables, are light and—as promised—crispy. I got carried away while sharing these recently and ate more than my fair share. These, too, come with a sweet chili sauce for dipping.
Steamed dumplings, plated over shreds of carrot and fresh cabbage, are filled with a juicy chicken filling and served with a soy dipping sauce.
There’s just one Vietnamese sandwich on the menu—at least for now. “Jarlure” was a mystery to me when I saw it listed among the banh mi ingredients. Our waitress explained, some call it Vietnamese ham. After a bit of research, I found this cold cut, a.k.a Vietnamese pork roll, is chả lụa or giò lụa. If you’ve grown up with it, you may consider it comfort food. To me, it’s closer to Vietnamese mortadella than ham. And as an Italian girl who has no love for mortadella, the Vietnamese version simply wasn’t my thing. Next time, I’d ask if all roasted pork could be an option instead. The sandwich itself is lighter on the roasted pork, heavier on the cold cut, but well-balanced with cilantro and matchsticks of carrots, daikon radish and cucumbers. It’s served on a toasted roll, similar to those used for banh mi in and around the Greater Hartford area.
The main event
Spicy Basil—with choice of chicken, beef, pork, vegetable, shrimp, squid or seafood—is indeed just the right amount of hot and flavorful in a chili-spiked sauce. I chose chicken, stir-fried with fresh basil, crinkle-cut carrots, green beans, red bell peppers and onions.
When a friend recommended the drunken noodles, I had to try them on my next visit. The chili heat from this dish hits right from the first bite and blends nicely with the beef, fresh basil, chunks of red and yellow peppers, onions, green beans and crinkle-cut carrots, tossed with wide rice noodles and bits of scrambled egg.
Now, of course you’re wondering—what about the pho? Here, it’s a bit lighter in color than many a bowl I’ve sampled. Perhaps somewhat lighter in depth of flavor as compared to my usual haunts. But still warm and comforting, particularly on the rainy day I tried it. The beef is tender and you can request it on the side, as I did.
When I last left the restaurant, having eaten there five days in a row (taking a break only on Sunday, when they’re closed), the chef waved goodbye with a grin. “See you tomorrow?” “Probably,” I replied, grinning right back. I do believe I’ve found my new local Vietnamese/Thai home away from home. See you there along with the other regulars, maybe?
Pho 170 is located at 170 Main Street in Middletown, CT.
Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.