“Pho #1″, a Vietnamese restaurant in Catonsville proved to be both an anomaly as well as a pleasant surprise. Wedged in a strip of small store fronts between Sam’s Club at one end and Lowe’s at the other end (and built on top of the remains of the 1950′s era Westview Mall), I didn’t have high expectations when my friend Tom urged giving Pho #1 a try. Geez, with two “Soul Food” joints within close proximity and a name like “Pho #1″, I confess that I was envisioning (and dreading!) a joint pushing erstwhile fried chicken liver Pho with rap music blaring in the background. Ugh!
All that changed the moment I walked in Pho #1. Inside, I took in a very pleasant and pretty casual restaurant with a mix of dark wood tables and upholstered booths, beautiful murals and pieces of art on the walls, chandeliers hanging from the embossed copper tile ceiling as well as what appeared to be a small Asian prayer shrine tucked away in one corner by the bar.
The menu offered a variety of dishes – a majority priced at $8.95 – including “Bun” (Pho soup with Vermicelli noodles), Hu Thieu (clear noodle soup), Com (un-soups served with rice) and more.
Our table had a large assortment of condiments and sauces that caught our attention!
The something or other condiments
Contributing to an on-going sense of anomaly, the staff appears to be all Latino. But that’s part of the great charm Pho #1 – our waiter greeted us and Latino though he appeared, he quickly really impressed us with his knowledge of the dishes on the menu as well as his responses to my question seeking advice and help on what to order. In my case, having had past experience where I’ve found Pho dishes at other restaurants to be relatively bland and unappealing, I asked our waiters advice for something with veggies and spicy (but not overly hot). He recommended Bun Bao Xao - a Pho soup with stir fried beef and fish cake and veggies; I immediately took his recommendation!
My friend Tom decided on a “Com”/rice dish with chicken and shrimp.
Our waiter brought a plate piled high with sprouts, pieces of lime and different greens (I made the mistake of grabbing a small slice of pepper and discovered that it was VERY hot!!!!!!)
My dish came in a large deep soup bowl with noodles, veggies, beef and fish cake. I added some of the sprouts and greens on top of my soup and added a sprinkle of lime. The soup had a spicy hearty taste that had a “kick” to it while avoiding being too much of a good/hot thing!
Tom’s dish was more traditional looking to my “western” eye but equally good (and came with a small cup of the soup that was filling my bowl)
All in all, I was darned impressed with Pho #1! It’s got a pleasant dining space, attentive and knowledgable staff and good food at reasonable prices! Maybe it should be named “#1 Pho” <Wink!>
Facts: Pho #1; Catonsville; 5740 Baltimore National Pike (aka Route 40); 410-719-7500; Full Bar; Vegetarian options; adjacent free parking; http://www.pho1md.com; visited Nov 29, 2013.