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Phở Viet

Bodacious bánh mì and beyond
By MC SLIM JB  |  March 12, 2008

Let’s be clear up front: Phở Viet, a counter-service Vietnamese joint in the Allston Super 88 supermarket’s slightly seedy food court, serves a smashing bánh mì. For $3, you get a flaky torpedo roll lightly slathered with garlicky mayo, stuffed with a generous portion of marinated grilled beef (beautifully rare inside), scalloped chicken breast, sliced pork loin, shredded pork skin, fried tofu slices, or “ham” (actually cold cuts) with a schmeer of pork-liver pâté. This is topped with shreds of cucumber, carrot, and daikon, sprigs of cilantro, and a few fierce sliced bird chilies.

The result is one gobsmacking hoagie: a complex interplay of meaty richness, vegetal crunch, good-bread crusty chewiness, and trenchant fresh-herb, garlic, and chili-fire notes. Why would I order anything else? Well, because my editor made me, though I’m gratified to report that Phở Viet does phở ($6.25–$6.50) rather well: a generous bowl of scalding-hot broth with real beef- or chicken-stock flavors, ungummy rice noodles, and lots of meat, plus a garnish plate of fresh chili slices, bean sprouts, and basil.

For lighter snacks, there are fine shrimp and chicken fresh summer rolls ($3.75), and thick-skinned pan-fried dumplings ($5.50) with gingery minced pork, served with a vinegar-tart dipping sauce. (In sandwiches, rolls, and dumplings, Phở Viet is more generous with meat fillings than most competitors.) “Crispy dumplings” ($5.50) are weird refugees from an American-Chinese menu: eight deep-fried, flower-folded, cream-cheese-stuffed wontons served with plum sauce. Crab Rangoon sans imitation crab, anyone? The famished should opt for one of the huge rice plates, such as grilled short ribs ($6.95), bony and chewy enough to be hard to eat, but worth the effort.

Drinks — including the iced espresso sweetened with syrupy condensed milk ($2.75), or a frappe-like shake ($3), such as the legume-textured red bean and coconut — are excellent. But I’ll keep returning for the bánh mì. It’s the city’s best version of this cheap street-food marvel — and, I’ll venture, Boston’s best sandwich for the money, period.

Phở Viet, located in the 88 Food Connection, 1095 Comm Ave, in Allston, is open Sunday through Thursday, from 11 am to 10 pm, and on Friday and Saturday, from 11 am to 11 pm. Call 617.562.8828.

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