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

Charritos: 3831 Independence Ave

 Posted by at 9:36 pm
Mar 312009

Are you ready for more Mexican?

frontThis last weekend I went out to the east side in search of a diner that was recommended to me, only to find it was closed on Sundays. In fact 99% of the damn places I drove by were closed. Having no luck on Truman Road I popped over to Independence Avenue, a veritable wellspring of seemingly authentic Mexican, African and Vietnamese delights. The first place that looked decent and was open was a Mexican restaurant across the street from a Mexican bakery [map].

Charritos is comprised of at least two storefronts, one featuring booths and televisions, the other with simple tables near the kitchen and cash register. The waitress seated us and took drink order while we perused a rather large and interesting looking menu.

My Pepsi arrived in a large plastic cup with maybe one or two ice cubes. I was a little taken aback since normally I overfill my fountain pop with ice. But I decided to roll with it, and actually found the experience rather pleasant. It reminded me of church pot lucks where I got to drink un-iced paper cups of Chek cola to accompany my casseroles and cold Kentucky Fried Chicken.
interiorThey offer really interesting food at this place. The menu features a number of homey Mexican classics like posole, menudo, and dinner plates of grilled meat, rice, beans and vegetables. There was so much on the menu that I couldn’t proces it all. I was also starving, hungover, and had consumed nothing but two cups of coffee and a prevacid that morning so my recall is admittedly faulty.

On to business. The two salsas that come with your homemade tortilla chips are both phenomenal. One is a simple guajillo chile (I think) based sauce with a little tomato puree, the other certainly incorporates a roasted poblano and is quite a bit spicier.



I would come to Charritos just for the chips and salsas. Seriously, they were so good that later I asked to buy some salsa to take home. The waitress looked at me askance and just gave me a small container of each with no charge. I felt like a dorky gringo and she got a big tip.

Anyhow, for lunch I had some chicken enchiladas verdes topped with a fried egg that were pretty good. The chicken was definitely cooked whole and picked off the bone which I love to see.


But the meat inside was a truly odd, bright white color that I have never experienced before. There is certainly a technique behind it (my dining companion suggested that it had been poached in vinegar water) but I don’t know what it was. All in all a solid dish, though the menu indicated that it would be a sunnyside up egg, not an over hard egg.

The Tacos Aztecas were fantastic: Large pieces of grilled skirt steak with grilled spring onions, cactus, roasted jalapenos and avocado.


Don’t they look good? And interesting? And exciting? Jesus Christ, ARE YOU HUNGRY YET? The beans were a fabulous, luscious reddish mash full of lardy, pinto-y goodness. The rice was solid but very typical.

But before I could get my panties in a bunch about this place I tried a tamal(e) and it was terrible. The dough was gritty, and the pork smelled…off. Considering how good everything else was this was quite a surprise, but true. So very true.

The prices were, I suspect, not typical for Independence Avenue lunch spots. A large lunch for two with leftovers cost 23 bucks or so. Most of the specials were about $8 so you could get out of there for under $10 on a normal day. It was damn well worth it. Charritos has good homemade food that, even if it is not consistent, is well thought out and carefully prepared.

Charritos on Urbanspoon