The best places to eat sometimes are in strip malls.
When visiting my family with my daughter Aynsley, she convinced us to go to “the best Pho place ever!” She had read about it online. My mom and I were both a little leery. I am a fan of the large Vietnamese restaurant in Boston’s China Town, where the crowded tables serve never ending large bowls of pho. I wasn’t sure how a Vietnamese restaurant in a strip mall in the Baltimore suburbs could compete.
My mom had never eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant. She wasn’t sure when we explained about the mixing bowl size of soup you finish to your liking with sprouts, mint and sauce.
Aynsley is a force of nature when she has her mind set on something. Her tsunami will had us at Pho Van in Catonsville Maryland ready for lunch.
PhoVan is located between two American icons, Wal Mart and McDonald’s. It’s an entire world away from both of them. The place is clean, in fact spotless, but the tables are slightly worn. The restaurant was quiet when we showed up for an early lunch. After the noise and bustle of Boston’s China Town, I wasn’t sure how such a small unassuming place could serve the claimed pho of dreams.
Then our bowls came, and the broth was rich and dark. I have to admit it was the broth base that made this the best pho I have ever had. There was no hint of a can in this pho.
I am sometimes reminded when eating an overly seasoned meal of someone that doesn’t bathe, and then tries to cover it up with perfume. There was no hint of a can stock in this pho. This was a good stock base, freshly made and dependent on the taste of beef rather than salt and seasonings for its flavor. Something this good doesn’t need anything added.
The sprouts were crisp and fresh, not a hint of brown, or of coming from an over crowded bag from the restaurant supply store. Someone chose these sprouts personally, probably that morning. Where ever they were buying the sprouts, it wasn’t the local supermarket. I was used to other Vietnamese restaurants bulk-bought sprouts and mint. I think they must grow the mint in the back, it was so fresh.
It was pho heaven. Quiet, unassuming, fast and polite service meant we could focus on the food. I can’t believe a bowl of pho would ever be up there on this Western food lovers list of favorite meals, but it’s there now.
Go. Visit. Eat. Rapture.
Pho Van 6477 Baltimore National Pike, Catonsville, Maryland
open seven days a week 9am-8pm
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