Pho 79 

With the feral famine incurred after spending the afternoon at a waterslide park, my companion Luke and I zipped into Pho 79. At most restaurants, if you come in with still-dripping trunks and uncombed, sun-dried hair, they might seat you near the kitchen. And they might fill your water glasses with hose water. Not so, it appeared, at Pho.

The austere emptiness of the restaurant is misleading. The walls are bare (short of a few random Asian decorations), the menu is a photocopied leaflet in a plastic wallet, and the tables and chairs are of the average outdoor wedding variety. However, sometimes dining out is just about getting a good pile of grub, and that's the case with Pho.

The restaurant is named for the most popular food in Vietnam, which is also the joint's signature dish. Pho is a beef-stock noodle soup that is often eaten for breakfast, but also for lunch and dinner. The reason they call it 79 is quite complicated: It is the 79th store in this Vietnamese restaurant chain. It is, however, the only Pho store in Idaho.

The menu is not as distinctly Vietnamese as the name may imply. There are as many typical Chinese and Thai dishes as Vietnamese--noodles, fried rice, curries and stir-fried vegetables and meats in sauces with indicative names such as "special" and "house."

Luke and I first split a bowl of sweet, spicy and creamy tom kah kai soup, a perfect combination of mushrooms and chicken in a coconut and lemongrass broth. It was huge and we slammed it, and all I needed for a top off was a slice of free-sample bread from the bakery next door.

But we didn't stop there (because the bakery had already closed). Instead, I ordered mu shoo shrimp, which wasn't on the menu. They had mu shoo everything else--beef, chicken, vegetables, tofu--but no shrimp. So I thought it worth an inquiry, and sure enough it seems to be just an oversight.

Tough Luke didn't get his spicy chicken with (pork) fried rice when my entrée arrived but I started eating anyway, as is the rule with hot food when you're hungry. The entire plate was obscured in shredded carrots, onions, cabbage and lots of shrimp and egg throughout. I made a wrap with the accompanying pancakes. So did my date. Then I made another. It had been nearly 10 minutes and Luke hadn't seen any spicy or any chicken. It's unusual and unfortunate when a twosome gets fed at different times. But eventually he got the mound of glazed chicken pieces. To my sensitive palate, it seemed spicy enough; to his impervious one, it needed several spoonfuls of added fire.

Both meals were enormous and tasty, even days later as not one but two leftover meals. Just as the teenage waitress came to deliver the check, I considered how nice it was that Pho was a "goodfood" restaurant that didn't mind our grubby look on a Friday night. What a relief to not sequester to Wendy's just because our shorts were wet. Then the waitress offered to box our leftovers, took our plates but stacked them on top of each other. That's right, she stacked the plates that still had food on them! I guess the no-judge-by-its-outside rule works one way at this place.

--Jennifer Gelband does not ball up paired socks.

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