Tai Chin Nam Gau Gan Sach (a.k.a. #14)

Pho. Take a look at the sign, and the Vietnamese characters look like they’re asking you questions: Want a piece of me? Can you pronounce me? Do you even know what I am?

This beef noodle soup is the perfect remedy for fighting a cold, a depleted wallet, or the winter blues. And while Seattle’s serving up pho everywhere, one of my favorite place to get it is Pho Than Brothers.

It’s a sentimental thing, as it’s the first place where I ever ate pho. (Yes, I know, there are better places in town.) There are a few Than Brothers restaurants in the area (the cracked vinyl seats at the University Ave location have old-school charm), but my top pick is the one on Aurora.

Hole-in-the-wall it is. Not much to the menu (under the glass surface of the table). I always order a medium #14 ($4.75), and only recently realized that the actual dish name Tai Chin Nam Gau Gan Sach refers to the meat ingredients: eye-round steak, well-done flank, marble brisket, soft tendon, and tripe. While you can choose fewer of these beef ingredients (or try chicken, or even vegetarian, but isn’t that kind of like ordering a decaf, nonfat latte?), I like the works for its variety of tastes and textures—especially the tendon and tripe. Then again, I’ll do almost anything to sneak an organ meat or two into my meal.

Before ordering, your server brings a glass of water and a cream puff. Go ahead…gotta love a restaurant that encourages you to eat dessert first! Place your order and you’ll first get a plate of jalapeno peppers, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and the always tantalizing Thai basil. Then seconds later your steaming bowl will arrive. This is fast food! Beautiful broth with floating pieces of meat and rice vermicelli beneath. Toss in the aforementioned accompaniments, add hot chili oil, and perhaps prepare a side dish of meat-dipping sauce of Sriracha and/or hoison. Chopsticks in one hand, soup spoon in the other, and you’re ready to slurp and scoop.

It’s all in the broth. Pho comes to your table so quickly, it’s hard to appreciate the hours it takes to simmer the meat, bones and spices to get it just right. The medium is quite filling, but if you’re hungry you can put down a large or even try the extra-large, which some call toilet bowl-sized. Enjoy the bloated feeling afterward; you’ll be glad you ate that cream puff before you were too full. (Good news: You can buy 3-packs of puffs if you want to eat them at home.)

Note: This is actually adapted from the first Seattle restaurant review I ever wrote (for Seattlest, RIP)! It generated debate about the best pho in town, but like chocolate, we can debate endlessly about what’s best. I say eat what you like. Challenge yourself to find something better. I do. And I occasionally return to Than Brothers for convenience and comfort.