Aug 292011

Update: Now called iPho Tower!

I don’t normally review chain restaurants on this blog, but as Mr. Ferruzza has pointed out, Pho Hoa is run much more like an independent restaurant. It fits nicely into the spectrum of Vietnamese joints on the near northeast side, and is perhaps a little hipper and more boisterous.




The decor is not necessarily modern but it doesn’t incorporate the kitschy, old lady aesthetic that many Asian restaurants do. As many have noted, Pho Hoa is difficult to locate from the street, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped many people from finding it. My visits have found it quite busy, patronized by youthful Vietnamese, curious suburban whiteys, students from the nearby medical college and even some older folks. The sea of tables in the main dining room creates quite the upbeat atmosphere, as do the host of young employees who seem to share all duties, from hosting and sandwich-making to food running and bussing. One fairly clueless server with a poor grasp of English took our orders, but we were equally attended by other workers who delivered our drinks, appetizers and food, and others still who delivered our check and we found them quick and friendly.

The house special banh mi is quite delicious, although a little too sweet for my taste. Having tasted a similar version from Kim Long’s I find I prefer that sandwich.

Banh Mi

The namesake Pho was good, and featured the best treatment of tendon that I have ever tasted. We were disappointed not to see the accompanying plate of bean spouts and herbs that always come with Pho, undoubtedly an oversight due to the busyness of the place and the odd division (or lack of division) of labor.


The food all came out at different times, and the Pho was last, making it less desirable to ask for the accompaniments since we were already full. Indeed my partner received her drink almost immediately while I waited quite a while for my avocado shake. I made it through an order of spring rolls (they call them summer rolls) before I received it. The shake was only slightly sweet, but silky, rich and delicious. The avocado flavor was not particularly strong but I really enjoyed the beverage and would order it again. In general, I was a little disappointed at not receiving our dishes in any order that made sense.

Avocado Shake

Summer Rolls

Nothing at Pho Hoa struck me as being any better looking or tasting than other Vietnamese spots in Columbus Park. The selection of banh mi is a selling point for sure, but better Pho can be had almost anywhere else in town, particularly Hien Vuong in the City Market, Vietnam Cafe and Sung Son in Westport. I feel likewise about the spring rolls and the banh mi. But Pho Hoa does offer all these items under one roof and in a perfectly acceptable style.

Pho Hoa Noodle Soup on Urbanspoon

Jul 272008

I first heard about this place over at the fine local food blog Noodletown back in March. Columbus park is an interesting neighborhood, and I wish I spent more time there. It has characteristics of the River Market and Northeast/Independence Ave. areas that surround it, but physically it feels different–smaller, older, quieter.

Historically Italian and increasingly populated by Vietnamese, Columbus Park is delineated by highways on three sides and the river on the fourth. This makes for some interesting navigation for those unfamiliar with the streets. Like the River Market, the streets are laid out according to the position of the river and not true north/south like downtown proper. That means it’s old, people. It’s home to several good restaurants as well, notably Vietnam Cafe, La Salla’s and Garozzo’s.

As Charles Ferruzza pointed out in his excellent piece about Happy Gillis, this building has a long history of being a comfortable neighborhood meeting and gathering place. The best part about Happy Gillis is that it maintains its connection to the neighborhood. The owners did not swoop in, totally revamp the place and produce food in an environment that appealed to people who don’t live there. That’s also why it’s called a “hangout.”

They left the sign from the original Gillis Sundries market out front, something a lot of restaurant owners wouldn’t do. To boot, the menu has a few homages to the ethnic character of Columbus Park–notably a Bánh mì and a few classic Italian sandwiches.

The food is very good, not spectacular. Sandwiches and salads are freshly prepared with high quality ingredients. I feel fairly confident that all varieties are tasty, probably some a little more than others. It’s a good sign that I have confidence in this place only having visited once. You can just tell they know what they are doing. My Italian sandwich floored me with the pure power of a good salami and some killer homemade giardiniera but I didn’t care for the ciabatta-type bread it came on. An Italian sandwich craves Italian bread, people.

Soups are the bread and butter here. The owners have operated a home soup delivery service for a few years and apparently have done well enough to open the storefront to complement their trade. Personally I can’t get excited about soup, particularly on a 95 degree day which have been all too common lately. My lovely lunching companion did however offer me a taste of a cold corn vichyssoise (wow, did I spell that right on first try?), served with a dollop of fresh pesto. Sounds great, but I found it underwhelming. As my companion pointed out, there’s no reason to puree corn in the middle of summer. Plus, I don’t want to drink my lunch anyway (unless we’re talking alcohol).

The atmosphere here is charming and the service is friendly and attentive. I don’t have anything bad to say about the decor or the vibe or the staff. Really laid-back.

I’m not sure this is a destination-spot, but it’s a really good option for those who live or work nearby. Or stop by after the oppressive crush of the City Market on a Saturday, it’s a good place to decompress.

More about Happy Gillis:

Happy Gillis Café & Hangout on Urbanspoon

Check out photos of this charming space on flickr.

Goofy Girl gives her take and gets the Bánh mì.

Everything else you need to know is on Yelp

Vietnam Cafe: 522 Campbell

 Posted by at 6:15 pm
Sep 062007

This is a great little Vietnamese place, nestled somewhat off the beaten track in Columbus Park, just east of River Market. For downtowners, this is too far to walk for a quick lunch jaunt, but would be a relatively easy drive or bike ride.

Vietnam Cafe

There are no frills here, and frankly I don’t want them. One jackass on CitySearch went here for his birthday dinner: guess what, he didn’t like it. Go to Sung Son in Westport if you want atmosphere and alcohol for twice the price. Vietnam cafe has something Song Son doesn’t: people. Have you noticed that place is never full? Weird. Anyway, despite its uninspired decor Vietnam Cafe does a very nice lunch business. The staff is friendly and attentive, and food is served quickly, without flourish.

The menu features everything you want in Vietnamese place: Spring Rolls, Pho, Bun, Com Da and Salads and it’s all good.

Bun with beef

Vietnam Cafe

For those of you familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, this is a must-go type of place. For those who aren’t, go back to your hot pockets and gas station fried chicken.

Fried sweet potatoes

The experience here is a little more laid back than Hien Vuong in the Market which is akin to eating lunch in your Vietnamese neighbor’s garage. I don’t care for the term “people watching” but if that’s your bag, this is a good place for it.

I am starting to realize that some KC folks are not particularly adventurous eaters, which is amazing considering the processed, packaged crap they serve at places like Sonic and Chili’s. I know what you’re saying: “but hey, those fried chicken, mashed potato and velveeta bowls they have at KFC are awesome!” Well, I’d rather have a fly in my soup than a mouthful of antibiotics, synthetically produced aromas, and red dye #12. Not to mention the preposterous combinations some of the chain restaurants devise. Applebee’s, Fridays and the like always find a way to combine steak, bacon, melted cheese and creamy sauce in one dish, it’s really out of control. Places like Vietnam Cafe don’t test their dishes in laboratories, they have been tested by a thousand or so years of inventive, discerning and very hungry people. I’m not a hippie, it’s just silly that people think Vietnamese food is “weird” when they will feed their children hot dogs from Target.

Despite this sentiment I detect among KC (and JoCo) populace, the success of BBQ in the city is testament enough to the fact that people will indeed support their local neighborhood hole in the wall when they see others doing it, and if there is a reason to be proud of it. KC doesn’t have enough of these places.

Read more:

Vietnam Cafe on Urbanspoon