Welcome to another chapter in the food saga that is Mastication Monologues! Today I will be talking about a restaurant that is a bit off the beaten path but is well-known to those who enjoy a traditional Vietnamese treat. The establishment in question is called Pho Xe Tang or its English name “Tank Noodles” in Uptown right off the Argyle El stop at 4953 N Broadway Chicago, IL 60640. This place is an institution within the area known as little Saigon, and I can definitely see why after trying their signature dish: Phở.
Now some people who are reading this blog right now are scratching their heads trying to make heads or tails of the word I just wrote above, and no, I did not create a new letter in the English alphabet. For my own typing sanity, I’ll write it in English, Pho, instead of its Vietnamese counterpart above. Plus, I would like to note that this dish is pronounced “Fuh” not “Foh” with a long “o”. I made the same mistake when I first saw it, but I was quickly corrected by my friend who had visited Tank Noodle before. Pronunciation aside, what exactly is Pho?
Pho is a broth dish that could be considered a veritable melting pot of indigenous Vietnamese, French, and Chinese influences to create one great meal. The soup begins with a simple beef or chicken broth that contains various types of meat depending on your preferences. Then there are garnishes that the diner can add to the soup as they go along such as cilantro, onion, lime, bean sprouts, Sriracha sauce, Asian basil, and bean sprouts. Many chefs recommend adding the ingredients gradually to the soup to enhance the flavor profile, but I personally think that it really doesn’t make much of a difference since the ingredients are all so fresh and tasty to begin with.
When I went to Tank Noodle, I got the beef Pho (phở bò) with tripe added to the mixture just to be adventurous. If you aren’t a fan of tripe, you can be even crazier at Tank Noodle and try their Pho with tendons, ox tail, or even bull penis (yes, you read that right). The actual broth was a light tan color but still possessed a deeply beefy soul that did not drown out the cilantro, bean sprouts, and basil that I put in the mixture.
I also added a healthy dosage of Sriracha sauce since I love my food to be extra spicy. The the beef slices in the soup were cut almost razor-thin which led them to almost dissolve on my tongue like a package of deliciously beefy Listerine breath strips. As for the tripe, it was tougher than the beef, naturally, but soaked up the Sriracha like some sort of meaty sponge which made it more palatable. The rice based noodles were firm and resilient which showed their high quality and were in harmony with the other competing flavors in this Southeast Asian symphony. By the end of the bowl, I was completely stuffed with beef, broth, and a spicy feeling in my mouth that reminded me of what a delicious meal I just consumed.
Even though I thought my meal was completely over, I had to indulge in one of my favorite Asian drinks: boba tea. If you’ve never had this drink, it can either be like a tea based fruit flavored slushie or more like a milk-tea hybrid. Its signature flourish is the option to drink it with or without “bubbles” or “pearls”. These two different names for the same thing are referring to the small balls of tapioca that reside on the bottom of the cup like little gummi nuggets of gold waiting to be discovered. I personally love the little buggers, but other people aren’t fans due to their chewy/rubbery texture. To each, his/her own, I guess. Anyway, I went with one of my favorite flavor mixtures which is mango and strawberry with bubbles. The tea was not too syrupy, and they gave me a generous helping of the tapioca pearls which elated me greatly. Once I finished this drink, I knew that I experienced a great meal even though it felt like the Tet Offensive was being reenacted in my stomach as I was too full and the spicy Sriracha was clashing with the sweetness of the tea.
So if you’re looking for a new type of cuisine that goes beyond the typical American Chinese orange chicken or the usual Japanese sushi rolls, try going a bit further south into Indochina to sample a tasty traditional treat from Vietnam at Tank Noodle!