Saturday, June 14, 2008

Finally, A Faux Pho!

I've been jonesin' for a vegan Pho for soooo long. Every time I go to my local Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Cali in Sarasota, I'm teased by the tofu and vegetable Pho ... it's on the vegetarian part of the menu, so you would think it's veggie ... um, think again. They use chicken stock. Boo! I've asked for a veggie stock, but they won't do it (they're weird that way).

Anyway, while in Oahu recently, Kreg and I found the Saigon Noodle House in Kailua and my dreams of a veggie Pho finally became a reality. And man, that soup was freakin' GOOD! It was so worth the wait.

My faux Pho arrived in a huge bowl. Loaded up with tofu (which was pressed, marinated, and yummy), fresh veggies and rice noodles. Served on the side were bean sprouts, basil (which looked and tasted like Thai basil) and lime. The broth was good, but a little bland ... a good base to start building flavors. I added some hoisin sauce, then the Sriracha hot sauce, the basil, bean sprouts, etc. Outstanding. I enjoyed the entire bowl, right down to the last slurp!

Besides having the veggie Pho, we also tried the papaya salad with tofu, veggie sandwich with tofu, and curry tofu with eggplant.

Everything was fresh and delicious. The papaya salad was so refreshing. The flavors exploded in your mouth - citrusy, salty, and with a little bit of sweetness. The different textures of crunchy peanuts, crisp green papaya and smooth marinated tofu worked so well together. The tofu was some of the best I've ever had. It was firm but not hard and it had a slight smokiness.

Next up was the curry tofu and eggplant, this was Kreg's choice. We weren't sure what to expect, since there are so many different types of curry. This one was a yellow curry and sort of reminded us of a cross between an Indian curry and a Singapore curry. The tofu was fried and had a really nice soft texture inside. Watch out though because this dish had some heat. The kind of heat that doesn't hit you at first but then sneaks up the back of your throat. I like hot foods, so it didn't bother me. Kreg on the other hand, found it a little too spicy. So, to cool his mouth down a bit, he decided to order the veggie tofu sandwich. This was a small baguette stuffed with veggies and marinated tofu. Simple, effective at putting out a mouth fire and yummy.

As far as ambiance goes, the place is pretty utilitarian. Nothing fancy here ... mismatched dishes, plain tables & chairs, fluorescent lighting, and one wall covered with illuminated photos of the food. It's a locals place -- casual, come as you are -- and we loved it. The staff were fantastic, they totally got the vegan thing which is a joy. We didn't have to worry about fish sauce, etc. And, you cannot beat the prices ... nothing was more than $7. In fact, we enjoyed this place so much, we were back the next day for lunch!!! (We had combo plates -- papaya salad with veggie spring rolls for Kreg and vermicelli salad with spring rolls (Vietnamese bun) for me. So much food, so good, and only $6.25 each.)

My only regret ... I wish we would have found Saigon Noodle House at the beginning of our trip rather than at the end!

Saigon Noodle House
Enchanted Lakes Shopping Center
1020 Keolu Dr
Kailua, HI 96734

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