In the not so distant past, it seemed like pho places were popping up like weeds. They each took on punny names like “Pho You” or “What the Pho?” This of course is due to the fact that “pho” rhymes with a favorite curse word – unbeknownst to many city commerce officials – making it rife with immature possibility. Each of these places followed roughly the same business model: strip mall, tile floors, formica tables, hermetically sealed chopsticks, and monstrous bowls of salty broth filled with meat and noodles. Pho 701 may not get top honors in the name department, but this place far surpasses your typical noodle house. You better pho king believe it!
Sorry about that….I couldn’t resist.
The second you walk into Pho 701′s Pac Ave building (directly next to Meconi’s) you get the feeling this place was created in the complete opposite mold as the F-bomb noodle joint. The decor is modern, the place spotless, the waitstaff friendly and helpful – not sitting behind a counter cluttered with trinkets for sale and Vietnamese newspapers (no hard feelings Minji’s, your bubble teas still make me swoon).
We found an interior table alongside a tall picture window overlooking the courtyard outside. We were immediately impressed with the overall feel of the place and alas! Reusable chopsticks! Although I must admit, I kind of missed getting slivers in my lips. There were several groups of people enjoying lunch, but we definitely had our pick of empties. I asked the waitress about the business they’d received over their short 4 months of existence, and she indicated that lunch was generally good, but the night life was not. While thumbing through the side menus, Adam noticed a decent happy hour offering: 3pm-6pm and 10pm-2am(!) with discounted food purchased with drinks. This might be a great option for those Pac ave revelers who don’t feel like Meconi’s or Matador.
We both ponied up $3.50 for Vietnamese coffees. The cups came with cute little percolators sitting on top and we had to wait a couple minutes before our coffees were done “brewing.” The coffee was espresso dark, but when stirred well the condensed milk made it a creamy brown that tasted delightfully sweet and robust. My only wish was that we ordered this on the other end of lunch.
Food was surprisingly affordable at $6 – $12 for most items. Our first offering was fresh spring rolls. At $5 they were huge and surprisingly good. Pretty standard, but done right.
We couldn’t come here and not order the pho. So, we ordered the #19: Eye round steak and well done brisket. $7.95 for the enormous bowl, $6.95 for the not as enormous bowl. It was huge, just like every other pho restaurant in the universe, but the sad news here is that is tasted like every other pho in the universe too. Good, but nothing life changing. The broth was on the milder side than some, and the beef was very tender, which sets it apart to a degree, but I was really expecting more here. I mean, everything else so far had been so unexpectedly good. Weird. Sad face.
Luckily for us, the other entree we ordered was just ridiculous. #26 – Vermicelli rice noodles with egg roll, skewers of grilled pork, chicken, and prawns, and a mixed herb fish sauce. Simply ridiculous. The meat was perfectly grilled with just a touch of sweet glaze. It’s hard to explain what set this apart from other grilled meats. It was so flavorful without being drenched in spices, you can save the sauce for the noodles.
Being the gluttons we are, we ordered the banh mi as well. At only $4.50, this might be one of the best sandwiches on Pac Ave. The baguette was perfect – crisp and fluffy, the ingredients were simple but fresh and delicious, and the price was right. If you work near the Spanish Stair take a quick jaunt down here and try this on your next lunch break.
Final Thoughts -
Pho 701 sounds generic, looks swanky, and tastes great, but should probably change its name to “Everything Else 701,” because everything other than the pho was fantastic. I am, admittedly, a Tacoma transplant (don’t judge) and have only heard about the amazing transformation downtown and Pacific Avenue have undergone since the topless bars and speakeasies in years gone by. All I know is the restaurant scene downtown is rocking and getting better all the time. Go support these new restauranteurs, it would be a shame to see this place slip away.
Mention us and get…no discount! But enjoy the best pho restaurant in town, as long as you don’t have the pho…