Pho Horn

Authentic Vietnamese plus
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 30, 2008

Pho Horn is an enticing place from the outside, with colorful neon bowls sprouting chopsticks, and the proud declaration: Authentic Vietnamese Restaurant. Inside, the attempt is to mellow the appetite provoked by the signs, as the menu displays a boy playing a flute while he sits on a grazing water buffalo.

Pho Horn | 401.365.6278 | 50 Ann Mary St, Pawtucket | Mon-Thurs, 11 am-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 11 am-11 pm; Sun, 11 am-9 pm | Major credit cards | Beer + wine | Sidewalk-level accessible
Clearly, pains have been taken to tweak the interest of non-Vietnamese diners in the Shaw’s shopping center location that used to house a defunct pho restaurant, called Golden Nime Chow. You know Americans have been accommodated: when you call for a reservation, the person announcing Pho Horn pronounces the first word “foe,” as fre-quently mispronounced by customers. (The traditional Vietnamese soup is pronounced, “Fuh.”) Health concerns are addressed by the menu declaring “Fast, Fresh & Healthy,” and “We cook with water, not oil.”

Strictly speaking, this is not a pho shop, like the more than two-dozen in Boston that offer countless variations, since it offers much more — nearly 100 dishes.

Rhode Islanders still aren’t as accustomed to Vietnamese food as they are to Thai cuisine, not to mention Chinese. So bear in mind that although all of the offerings have Vietnamese names — some of them six words long and blooming with diacritical marks — all of the stir fried dishes are Chinese, and there is even a Korean dish here and there, not to mention Cambodian. (To prevent our tongues from getting cramps when ordering, all the items are numbered.)

The only disappointment among our samplings was such a Chinese dish, ga xao ca ry ($8.95), with announced although undetectable curry among a variety of nine vegetables, including snow peas and baby corn. The chicken was generous in amount but sliced cold-cut thin, rather than in juicy chunks, in a very non-Vietnamese thickened dark sauce.

Backing up a bit: I very much enjoyed our appetizer, scallion pancakes ($3.95), crisp triangles with a delicious dipping sauce heavy on the toasted sesame oil. We considered having the Vietnamese crepe ($8.25), which had been recommended, a mixture of shrimp and pork, plus bean sprouts and scallions, nicely sauced in a freshly made rice flour pancake. We’ll get it next time.

Read the vegetarian entrée descriptions carefully, because they sneak chicken broth into the noodle and tofu soup. Unusual for pho shops in our experience, from West Coast to East, a vegetarian option isn’t available with the 11 pho offerings.

Admittedly, the dish traditionally contains one or more varieties of beef and beef broth, to which one adds from plates of mung bean sprouts, basil leaves, and cilantro. There are chicken and seafood variations here, however.

A successful vegetarian dish we had was the canh chua dau hu, listed as an entrée but, like pho, a soup. It’s available in three sizes — $8.95, $9.95, and $11.95 — and medium was more than enough to share as a second starter. The mildly spicy-hot broth was rich without the help of chicken, and the fresh pineapple and tomato chunks brightened things considera-bly. The firm tofu was fried crisply enough to retain some bite.

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