I head to Ben Tranh, but it’s become Taste of Asia and the sign advertises Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese fare. Hmm. I think I’ll go back a block to the funky pho place I just passed, as specialization should mean higher quality. The restaurant is called Pho 97, and it’s near a dingy hotel and strip club. Ah, true hole-in-the-wall.
The sign outside says they sell bun bo hue, so that’s what I decide to order–though I’m tempted by their other specialty soups: bun mang vit (vermicelli with steamed duck and bamboo shoot), mi vit tiem (special egg noodle Chinese duck soup), and banh tam bi (thick round noodle with grilled pork skin and coconut milk). The soup’s pretty good, though the stock isn’t as rich as I typically get in Seattle. Among the sides that come with the soup is ngo om (rice paddy herb).
Most fascinating is the interior, including its aqua-colored walls and slightly greener curtains (and pink furniture), the plastic flower arrangements throughout the place, and the long counter reminiscent of an old soda fountain. Two TVs show some Disney sitcom; turns out there’s a girl curled up in a booth watching/sleeping. Everything contributes to the funkiness of the place, but the workers there are nice, and you have to love that they serve durian shakes!