When my dining chum and I pulled up to the northwest Boise Vietnamese and Thai restaurant Pho 79, an ambulance was parked in front of the surrounding strip mall. As we strolled inside, I momentarily panicked--call it foreshadowing--upon seeing two paramedics standing next to a table strewn with knocked over dishes. Twenty-five minutes later, both the dishes and the paramedics remained--the former ignored by the wait staff until halfway through our second course, the latter still waiting impatiently for a takeout order. In a more trusting, less diseased world, I would have simply offered my entrée to the poor medics in hopes they would find it more appetizing than I did.
Pho 79, like Blink 182, is a West Coast-based franchise seeking to infect the national populace with thin interpretations of old recipes. I wish I could say that the restaurant held higher esteem in my eyes than the band, but both ultimately impart the same lingering stomachache and bad aftertaste. I will not focus on the décor, as it seemed simply to be an extension of the strip mall surroundings (plastic office chairs and cafeteria tables), and I could overlook the look if the food pulled up the slack. It did not.
I started off with an order of Cha Gio, a popular Vietnamese snack consisting of bean threads, iceberg lettuce threads and pork threads all wound into a greasy little dreadlock and deep-fried. While it was tastier than my description implies, the dish was no better or worse than similar rolls found in your grocer's freezer, and hardly seemed worth the $5.75. As Pho 79 is named after a soup, I decided to follow up with one, a huge Vietnamese standby by the name of Bun Bo. Unfortunately, the noodles were hardly cooked, the broth had a metallic tang that caused my taste buds to recoil, and the beef was an ashen hue that was far from appetizing. Not "Hey paramedic, don't leave yet" perhaps, but more like "Dude! I'm not eating that unless you double-dog dare me!"
My erstwhile vegetarian dining mate found a dearth of options--nothing new to her, as we have recently reviewed flesh-happy joints like The Stagecoach and The Cellars at Eagle Market. However, while even the meatiest of the bunch has been able to provide a stray salad or onion ring, the menu at Pho 79 was packed wholly with dead stuff. No exceptions. I was reminded of a Simpsons vignette in which Lisa the veggie is asked by a server in a Japanese restaurant, "Is there any way that we can harm an animal in the preparation of your meal?" In fear of either looking the bad date or, worse, being the harmed animal, I asked our server if it would be possible to order Pad Thai sans egg. I was told in broken English that yes, it did have egg, and would be out soon. I tried asking another server of obvious local origin, and was chided, "It's just a little bit of egg is all, it will come out in just a second." It did, and I was forced to eat it.
The single bright spot in the meal was a deep-fried banana that I offered up to veggie-pants as a post-entrée peace offering. I suspect it, (and perhaps the Pad Thai), came in a kit from the Pho-corporate offices, but at least the pleasant combination of sweet, gummy and creamy kept me from having to stop at Taco Bell on the drive home.
--Nicholas Collias prefers to eat with paramedics nearby.