Pho 79 

7310 W. State St., 208-853-8889. Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. noon-9 p.m.

As far as first impressions go, Pho 79 is about as flashy as a tin can. The small, unadorned restaurant on State Street lacks all the atmospheric amenities a typical restaurant-goer may be used to finding—wall art, stylishly decorated tables and chairs, mood lighting—but, fortunately it seems the owners of Pho 79 have scrimped on money that could have been spent on visual gimmicks in order to splurge on the quality of their food.

I went on an evening when it was cool enough that sitting outside sounded almost bearable, but the only patio in the little strip that houses Pho 79 was for a neighboring restaurant. I was a little jealous of the people enjoying the first relatively cool evening in the last month, but reasoned that I would be better off inside given the only view to be had was of the busy State and Glenwood intersection.

The dimly lit restaurant was deserted but for a large and rowdy table of children accompanied by parents who seemed completely unaware that their gaggle of ankle biters was tearing around tables and in and out the front door.

The sole server of the evening was an absolutely adorable older Asian woman who spoke almost no English and had the patience of a saint. She waited for the mob to run outside then motioned for us to follow her to a far corner table. I looked nervously at my date and reminded him that before leaving work that day, I had mentioned to my boss that I would be eating at Pho 79 and his face immediately lit up. He claimed it's the most authentic Vietnamese food in town and assured me of his snobbery regarding the authenticity of ethnic cuisine. With his good graces in mind, I looked past the drab decor and went straight to the menu.

As expected, there were a number of pho varieties to choose from, but soup in the summer doesn't appeal to me, so I decided on a fresh spring roll for an appetizer. The goi cuon is a shrimp, pork and lettuce roll wrapped in thick rice paper and served chilled ($7.50). But because it wasn't deep fried, and my date made it very clear that everything is better deep fried, we ordered cha gio ($5.75), a small bean thread, pork and veggie egg roll described on the menu as one of Vietnam's most popular snacks.

About 10 minutes later, our server rolled a little cart out of the kitchen piled high with our appetizers. Either one could have been a meal on its own. Four goi cuon were cut in half on a clunky, ungarnished plate, but each half could easily have been counted as one roll. We ate two each and agreed to take the rest of the spicy yet refreshing snacks home. The cha gio came piled high with bite-sized cuts of crispy egg roll about which my date said, "This is like Vietnam's own kick-ass version of a hush puppy."

Our meals were wheeled out perhaps 15 minutes after the appetizers and, while everything on the table had the same brownish hue, again, the flavor impressed me. I ordered the house special noodles with shrimp, chicken and beef ($8.25) and was mildly stunned by the abundance of food. I was disappointed to find only two shrimp swimming around in the mass of pan-fried noodles and land-locked meat, but the crunchy noodles and tender meat soaked in "special sauce" kept me happy. I snatched a few chopsticks worth of my date's chicken garlic ($8.25) and was a little jealous of the rich, garlicky goodness.

While Pho 79's portions suggest that whoever established the restaurant had the American ideal of "more is more" in mind, the authentic-ish flavor and kind staff is worth the two-for-one sized dinner. And there's always leftovers for lunch the next day.

—Anna Demetriades prefers her portions Polly Pocket-sized.

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