This is the eighth restaurant post in the ongoing series Welcome to My New Hood, a series highlighting the neighborhood between Harvard Square and Porter Square in Cambridge. Other posts in this series: Rafiki Bistro (now closed), Super Fusion Sushi, Temple Bar, Giulia, Cambridge Common, Ten Tables Cambridge, and Chez Henri (now closed). This post is also the 20th post in the #21PostsInMay Challenge where I aim to publish a new post every single week day in the month of May. All other posts published in the month of May can be found here.
Bryan always laments the state of Vietnamese food in Boston. After all, he grew up in Southern California and his home church was in Westminster, basically the hub of Vietnamese cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine is his favorite Southeast Asian cuisine, and he much prefers it over Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisine.
Usually if we're in Cambridge, our default is to visit Le's in Harvard Square. It's about a 10-minute walk from our house; the service is crazy fast (I swear, it's faster than counter-service fast food); it's cheap; and it tastes pretty good.
Not as good as California, Bryan will be quick to say, but decent.
Not too long ago a new Vietnamese restaurant called Pho House opened up even closer to our house. Located on Massachusetts Avenue between Porter Square and Harvard Square, this place is at most a 7-8 minute walk from our home.
One sunny day Friday when Bryan and I were both working from home, we walked down the street to check this place out for lunch.
Bryan always orders fresh summer rolls (with pork and shrimp) as a starter, and this time was no different. These summer rolls, which also came with a peanut dipping sauce on the side, were fine. Nothing special, but OK.
The Dac Biet Pho ($7.95 for a large), on the other hand, was pretty average. Although the description says it should have " rare steak, well done frank, tendon and tripe," Bryan was unhappy because all of the thinly sliced meat was well done (see photo above). At Le's, the thin eye round slices are usually rare and quite pink on the inside. At places like Pho Hua in Dorchester, they'll even give you the raw meat slices on the side so you can dip it at your own pace. Here, everything was fully cooked through. The broth was not as flavorful as the one at Le's, with less depth and less umami overall.
On the other hand, I really liked my sandwich, or bahn mi. They have a couple traditional bahn mis, but since I'm not a huge fan of liver or pate, I opted for a fusion bahn mi that had Thai spice marinated ground pork with fresh vegetables. I actually really enjoyed it! The ground pork had elements of savory, sweet, and sour, and the vegetables were nice and fresh. I don't see the bahn mis on the take out menu, so I'm not sure if it's just something you can only eat on the premises, or whether they have since removed this from the menu.
The place does a lot of take-out business, and the menu also includes a whole slew of American Thai take-out dishes. There is also other standard Vietnamese fare, like buns (vermicelli bowls with various toppings); banh hoi (wrap it yourself rolls); and pho (noodle soups). The Thai side of the menu includes various curries, noodle stir fries, and fried rice (basically your run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant in America).
My friend ordered take out from here for a large group event at my house not too long after our visit, and the food was decent. The buns were flavorful, and overall the food was serviceable (we didn't get the pho because it's hard for a large group to share). The guests (there were about eight of us) seemed to enjoyed the food. Nothing was ground breaking, but it was definitely sufficient for a weeknight takeout meal.
I haven't tried any of the Thai food, and because of Bryan's disappointment the first time, we haven't physically been back. I personally wouldn't mind returning again for that sandwich, or even trying something else. Alas, it's hard to convince Bryan to return to a place he wasn't that excited about when there are just so many restaurants that we still need to try.
Pho House Cambridge
1790 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140