Best Bets: Pho

Pho Ga at Pho Vietnam Restaurant & Bar.

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

Pho Ga at Pho Vietnam Restaurant & Bar.

I didn't know if it was allergies or a cold, but I knew I was coming down with something and needed chicken soup. It's supposed to be the great healer.

I remembered tasting some delicious chicken soup at the recent Taste of DeSoto fundraiser in Southaven. The guy responsible for the soup was Vinh Le. I hadn't seen him since I took his photo at the 2005 Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival for my Party Line column. Le, who now is 32, owns Pho Vietnam Restaurant & Bar in Southaven.

I stopped by the restaurant last week and in a raspy voice ordered chicken soup or Pho (noodle) Ga (chicken). Le, who now has a 4-year-old son named Ayden looks about like he did six years ago. Maybe it's the chicken soup.

Explaining the cooking process, Le said they begin by boiling the chicken legs and breasts. Separately, they grill ginger, white carrots, onions, celery, salt, sugar and dried squid. When the chicken is done and the vegetable mixture is done, they mix it together.

If you feel sick or like you're coming down with a cold, order No. 9 on the menu, Le said. That's Pho Ga. "It's also good for a hangover," Le said.

Le, who was born in Thu Duc, Vietnam, said people in Vietnam eat pho all day long -- breakfast, lunch and dinner. His soup recipes basically are family recipes, but he tweaks them a little.

The chicken noodle soup is served with lemons, bean sprouts, cilantro and jalapeño peppers on the side. You add them to taste.

Most of the soups sell for $6.95 for regular, $7.95 for large and $8.95 for extra large. The ones with shrimp and crab meat cost a little more.

The chicken noodle soup was nourishing, but what I went crazy for was No. 3 -- "Pho Tai-Gau" -- noodle soup with eye round steak and brisket. Le told me they also use lemongrass, rock sugar and beef bone in the broth. They use no bouillon of any kind, he said. I apologized to Le and just tipped up the bowl and drank every bit.

I didn't try it, but the No. 7 -- the "Pho Dac Biet" or, as it's called on the menu, "Pho Tai-Nam-Gau-Gan-Sach" -- is the ultimate beef soup. Le describes it as "the one with everything. If you're adventurous, you try that one." This contains noodles, eye round steak, flank, brisket, tendon and tripe. It's also the soup they use in their "Pho King Challenge."

Le brought out one of the enormous red bowls they use in the contest. They fill them with two pounds of noodles and two pounds of meat. If you can finish it in one hour, you win $200 and a T-shirt that says, "Pho King Winner." "You don't have to finish the broth. Just the solid."

About 70 people have participated, but only four have won the contest, Le said.

If you lose, you have to pay $32 for the soup. You also can get a T-shirt that says "Pho King Loser." But, Le said, "If you want a shirt, you have to buy it."

Pho Vietnam Restaurant & Bar is at 3964 Goodman Road, No. 101, at Malone in Southaven; (662) 890-9440.

-- Michael Donahue: 529-2797; donahue@commercialappeal.com

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