There are so many Vietnamese food joints in town that one wonders what it takes to differentiate and make a name in the genre. The answer is simple: superior food at reasonable prices. And the food at Pho 79 is indeed superior.
Pho 79 sits in an unassuming location: a former motel restaurant on Candelaria Road, just east of I-25. The place has been mostly remodeled, but there are obvious cues to its past as a diner.
Owner Tuan Nguyen opened Pho (pronounced “fuh”) 79 in April after having done nearly all the remodeling himself, he said. He had worked at a number of other Vietnamese restaurants in Albuquerque prior to this venture, and the evidence is in the food.
The menu includes the usual Vietnamese fare, but everything is made with such care and attention to detail and the service so friendly, that customers are bound to become regulars immediately.
The menu is all the more appealing to students since the most expensive dishes on the menu are less than $7.
We began with the ubiquitous shrimp spring rolls and pork egg rolls. The spring rolls were good and came with a delicious peanut sauce, but the egg rolls were even better, full of seasoned ground pork, not just cabbage with a sprinkling of pork like most restaurants serve.
The pho (#6 Deluxe Beef Noodle Soup at $6.95) was a great example of Vietnamese soup. The broth was rich, but not overpowering; the meats were tender and tasty. Each meat had its own texture from the tender, chewy cooked beef tendon to the savory, well-done steak and sliced simmered meatballs. The pho comes in only one size: big. Take home the leftovers for later.
Another terrific dish was the Bun, a common regional dish of rice vermicelli and salad, topped with cooked meats. The #17 Combination Bowl ($6.95) came with grilled chicken, beef, pork and a sliced egg roll.
Pho 79 also offers stir-fried noodle dishes with egg noodles or broad rice noodles. The #34 stir-fried noodles with shrimp was a huge plate of noodles with a generous amount of shrimp, carrots, zucchini, broccoli and onions. The sauce was savory and delicious and even better with a squirt or two of Sriracha sauce, bottles of which are at every table.
The crown of the meal went to the Crispy Noodle Combination Special. Thin rice noodles were formed into a basket and fried, then filled with stir-fried vegetables, pork, chicken, shrimp and beef. The entire construction was served in a pool of rich savory sauce that softened the crispy noodles near the bottom, presenting a great mix of flavors and textures.
There are also fried rice dishes, several vegetarian options and a great selection of beverages. The Young Coconut came with the top sliced off and a straw. The fresh coconut water was refreshing and delicious, and there was a spoon to scoop out the thin layer of young, gelatinous coconut meat.
Since I dined with a couple of regulars, Nguyen brought them a new drink he is considering as a menu addition. The ginger tea, blended with green tea and powdered milk was tasty, smooth and had just a zing from the fresh ginger. Also available is Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, served hot or iced.
2007 Candelaria Road NE
Sunday-Tuesday: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.