By Caroline Carney and Kelly Dumke
Pho Pasteur, nestled into Boston’s Theatre District, has been a fixture of Chinatown since it opened in 1991. The family owned and run Vietnamese restaurant strives to accommodate the wishes and tastes of each customer. Pho Pasteur has certainly succeeded: the restaurant is always busy, serving up to 1,000 customers a day.
Pho Pasteur boasts speedy service and satisfied stomachs. The restaurant has a no-frills ambiance with small flowerpots intermixed with Vietnamese art and bamboo decorations. Proudly displaying “Zagat Guide” ratings and “Best of Boston” awards, the restaurant has been a culinary favorite since the doors opened. The restaurant seats about 100 with tables adorned, not with candles or flowers, but an array of sauces and a bouquet of chopsticks.
The large menu offers an array of Vietnamese specialties including the restaurant’s signature Pho, noodle soups, rice dishes, vermicelli bowls, vegetarian fare, and Vietnamese traditions. Carnivores can choose from a wide selection of meats, poultry, and seafood to accompany a number of Vietnamese specialties like noodle soups, vermicelli, and fried rice. Vegetarians will appreciate the vast vegetable selection: vegetarian egg rolls, Pad Thai, spring rolls, vermicelli bowls, and soups. Tofu can be substituted in any of the meat dishes. Helpful cartoon chili peppers indicating spicy dishes and a kind, yet cautious staff can help guide a novice or experienced diner to make a delicious selection.
The drink menu at Pho Pasteur includes the usual suspects of juice and tea, but the majority of the beverages sound like elixirs from a far-off place: salty iced plum soda with sugar, egg soda with condensed milk, pennywort leaf (an herbaceous plant native to Asia) juice with ice. Pho Pasteur even concocts a shake made with durian, the stinky fruit. The mundane and bizarre are all reasonably priced. Wine and beer are also available at modest prices around $2 to $5.
Sauces at the ready and chopsticks properly held, it was time to tantalize the taste buds with some award winning Vietnamese cuisine.
An easily shared appetizer is the Shrimp Cake and Rice Paper. The plate arrived quickly with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, vermicelli, a shrimp cake, and two pieces of sugar cane. Alongside these colorful ingredients, sat a plate piled high with round, shell-like rice wrappers (what is used to wrap fresh spring rolls). First, the shells are dipped into hot water to let them soften and filled with your choice of ingredients. Pile them high, seal them up, and dip them into one of the many umami evoking sauces: the red hot Sriracha sauce, sweet duck sauce, fermented fish sauce, or the creamy peanut sauce. The wraps are a refreshing balance of sweet and salty.
The Tofu Vegetable Chowfoon stir-fried received rave reviews from the table. The wide, Thai-style rice noodles were sautéed with green and red peppers, thick slices of crunchy celery, onions, and the occasional broccoli. The stir-fry included just the right amount of warm, firm tofu. Hoisin sauce, a traditional Chinese and Vietnamese condiment, united the dish with its flavors of soy, garlic, chili, vinegar, sugar, and spices.
Tofu Hot and Sour Soup was an incredibly satisfying dish. The spicy and sweet broth with overtones of tomato was full of pieces of lightly fried tofu, baby corn, mushrooms, and celery. One the side, to be added into the hot soup, were crisp bean sprouts, vibrant basil, and vermicelli noodles.
The Vermicelli with Grilled Shrimp, Sliced Beef, and Spring Roll Bowl was a surprisingly refreshing dish with hints of mint and cilantro, fresh scallions, crunchy bean sprouts, shredded carrots, and crushed peanuts. Silky vermicelli rice noodles were the perfect accompaniment to the mild and tangy peanut sauce or savory fish sauce. Thinly sliced beef and grilled shrimp added a hearty protein punch, while the delicate spring roll was a refreshing flavor bundle.
Pad-Thai with Chicken was a savory sauté of thin rice noodles, sliced green scallions, and crisp bean sprouts with a perfect peanut flavor. Sprinkled with chopped peanuts and garnished with fresh lime wedges, the dish was not drench with oil, but rather had a refreshing tang when drizzled with fresh lime juice.
The modest prices, ranging from $3 to $9, and a commitment to customer satisfaction are enough to impress anyone. Pho Pasteur’s family hospitality and delicious Vietnamese cuisine are what keep the regulars coming back and attract new fans everyday.