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Review: Pham Thi Truoc Restaurant

Pham Thi Truoc Restaurant 1901 E Arkansas Ln #111 Arlington 817-274-0094 Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, Saturday


Posted 6:36pm on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013

Pham Thi Truoc in Arlington is another place that has been open for more than a decade, and I’ve tasked myself, once again, with finding out why.

Whether it’s true or not, I like to believe there’s always one dish that keeps the people coming back.

The Vietnamese restaurant is named after chef Toai Nguyen’s great-grandmother. And don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it. Most customers just call the place PTT — it’s even on the sign outside.

So what’s keeping this place thriving? Could it be the appetizers?

The bi cuon ($4 for three), rice-paper rolls with shredded pork, and the goi cuon ($4 for two), rolls with pork slices and shrimp, both include mint leaves, making them cold and refreshing. The shredded pork, however, is too finely shredded, giving it a bizarre, gritty texture.

Maybe dishes like the com tam bi thit nuong ($7.50), grilled pork strips on rice, are the reason customers stay loyal. The pork is salty and sweet with beautiful grill marks, but I don’t think it’s the dish I’m looking for.

Perhaps it’s the vermicelli bowls, like the bun tom bo nuong cha gio ($8.50), served with crispy pork egg rolls and soft, moist noodles.

Then there’s the com ga xui mu ($9), a marinated, deep-fried Cornish hen sitting on a bed of rice. And although it’s traditionally served with soy sauce, I thought it was best without any. Crispy, tender and perfectly seasoned, I’d come back to PTT for another juicy hen.

We’re getting close.

When I quizzed Nguyen about his “house specialty beef stew,” he simply said, “Oh, that’s Grandma’s recipe.”

I knew I had found my answer.

The hu tieu bo kho ($7.50) is the restaurant’s signature soup. And to say it has a flavor and complexity unlike any of the other dishes would be an understatement. The staff claims no one has a recipe like theirs, and they might actually be right. (They declined to disclose its secrets.)

The stew, like a beef pho, is extremely aromatic, its dark amber broth giving off the scent of beef, green onions, star anise and spices. Go ahead and fan the scent into your face.

The flavor is slightly sweet and very well-balanced, and no single ingredient overpowers each spoonful. It’s served with beef so tender it falls apart in your mouth. And the portion is a hefty bowl you’d be wise to move with both hands.

Keep in mind, I’m not a soup guy. I’ll have plenty of time for soup when I run out of teeth. But this soup — Grandma’s — I truly believe is the dish that draws customers to Pham Thi Truoc.

And if there’s just one set of words I’m going to learn to pronounce in Vietnamese, it should be the name of that soup.

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