There are few subjects that incite more heated debate among Central Oregonian foodies than whether or not Bend has authentic ethnic restaurants.
While I used to be on the fence, I can definitively say that Bend finally has an authentic Vietnamese restaurant in Pho Viet and Café, opened in the former Rico's Taco's location on 3rd Street. The restaurant has been open just a just a couple of weeks, but has already seen many repeat customers, myself included.
Tan and Tammy Vo opened Pho Viet and Café after previously working in their family's restaurant in Portland. The couple recently moved to Bend, bringing along a few generations-old recipes.
The Vo's kept the exterior the same but remodeled the interior, adding new furniture and fixtures. Although it's not flashy by any means, the booth and table seating is clean and comfortable.
So far, I've been to Pho Viet and Café four times and each time it's been comfortably busy. According to Tan, the first day saw a line out the door, and it's been packed ever since. It's obvious that I wasn't the only one who's been craving a bowl of pho, the restaurant's signature dish and a staple of Vietnamese cooking.
Pho (pronounced fuh) is a Vietnamese rice noodle soup with a beef and/or chicken broth, served with a side of basil, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeño peppers, and hoisin and chili sauces. You add as much of each side as you like and voila, you have an addictively savory, refreshing and spicy soup.
The restaurant offers a variety of pho, including beef meatballs, eye round steak and tendon, seafood and vegetarian. I've had both the chicken and eye-round steak versions and while the broth isn't quite as intensely flavorful as I'd prefer, both were perfectly good bowls of pho.
The massive bowl of broth ($7.95 for a small and $8.95 for a large), herbs and meat is something I could eat every day - and practically have since Pho Viet and Café opened.
While this restaurant dedicates one page of its menu to pho, there's a variety of other offerings, including lemongrass chicken, rice dishes and vermicelli bowls (also called bun). I ordered the marinated grilled chicken bun ($9.95). Vermicelli noodles, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, cilantro, crushed peanuts and a tart dressing with tender, glazed chicken filled the plate. Mixing the elements together created a taste that was similar to a rice paper spring roll - light and delicate, yet with enough crunch and meat to satisfy. While it was a large portion of food, eating it didn't weigh me down like some other Asian dishes tend to.
Most of Pho Viet and Café's recipes were passed down from Tan's mother, who ran her own restaurant in Saigon when Tan was growing up. "I was literally raised in the kitchen," he says. Animated and personable, Tan and Tammy say they've been pleasantly surprised by the community's response to the restaurant. Tan did confess he's still training his kitchen staff on Vietnamese techniques, and I have noticed an improvement in the food with each visit.
Even if the food were mediocre, I'd be thankful that Bend's ethnic food offerings are expanding. But the continued abundance of patrons proves that the restaurant's success is not just its novelty. During one visit, a fellow diner leaned over to me and said, "This is what's been missing in Bend!" I have to agree. Bend finally has an authentic Vietnamese place, and that's something we all can raise a spoon to.