Un-‘Pho’-gettable Vietnamese Cuisine

Michael Tricca, Staff Writer

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Pho 88, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Drum Hill area of Chelmsford, doesn’t seem like very much a first, seeming to be no more than a secluded doorway built into a crowded complex.

However, it is anything but ordinary. The door opens into a refined, spacious area with ambient lighting and soothing decor. It did an effective job of making the space elegant.

My group (including a mother, a picky vegetarian sister, and an eleven year old brother) was seated near-immediately, with a friendly waiter leading us to a booth. We had gone rather early, around five o’clock, and the restaurant was quiet.

The same waiter served us throughout; he was good-humored, and visited often enough to keep us comfortable but not so much that he was a nuisance. He recommended an excellent vegetarian dish to my sister, tofu and a vegetable medley, sauteed in curry. It was slightly spicy, with a variety of textures.

To start off our meal, we ordered three appetizers, egg rolls, spring rolls, and shrimp toast. The egg rolls were fried to a golden brown, stuffed with pork, shrimp, and onions. The crisp shell gave way to a well-balanced interior, spicy and salty, which mingled to create a filling, but not heavy taste.

The spring rolls were wrapped in softened rice paper, filled with shredded carrots and lettuce. Being a carnivore at heart, I felt they were good when paired with the peanut sauce that came with them, but were otherwise somewhat lacking in density of flavor.

The shrimp toast consisted of thick but light toast spread with shrimp paste, sprinkled with sesame seeds. The toast was, like the egg rolls, crisp and warm, and the plate overall had a unique flavor between buttery and salty.

My sister, not satisfied with simple water, ordered a beverage of chilled lychees (a type of fruit) over ice, called lychee juice. The juice itself was light and refreshing, with a refined sweetness.

Then, the soup and pad thai came. The chicken soup was excellent, with hot, well-flavored broth that was strong but not overpowering. The chicken was wonderfully tender, complimented perfectly by the broth. The soup was garnished with onions, scallions, and cilantro; bean sprouts, basil and lime were served on the side, with the option of adding them to the mix.

Pad thai is a noodle dish know for the peanut sauce it is adorned with. We ordered a variant including pork, which itself was tender and had a satisfying nutty flavor. The noodles were interspersed with chopped roasted peanuts, onions, and beansprouts, which varied the texture quite nicely. The sauce gave the noodles a hearty flavor, which went well together.

The meal was delicious and filling; the chefs at Pho 88 have achieved the perfect balances between ingredients, creating dishes that are hearty but not heavy, spicy but not eye-watering, sweet but not sickly so. It should also be mentioned that Pho provides takeout service; one can preorder food, pick it up, and take it home.

The main hurdle for Pho 88 would likely be the prices, though they aren’t too exorbitant. Appetizers, enough for two to share, range from four to ten dollars. The majority of entrees are seated at around ten dollars, while drinks don’t climb above four dollars. Pho 88 comes well-recommended for a date with style.

My family walked out of Pho 88 with full stomachs and lots of left-0vers to take home.