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The Dish: Pho with brisket, flank, fat brisket, soft tendon, and bible tripe
The Location: Pho Vinh Loi Restaurant, 5811 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, (703) 379-0988
The Price: $6.25
The Skinny: The difference between the interior of Pho Vinh Loi Restaurant and the ingredients of its main dish is sort like the difference between three-chord punk and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This pho parlor in the Bailey’s Crossroads Shopping Center is little more than a tile floor, a counter, a handful of tables, and some old dining-hall chairs that look onto the vast, unpeopled parking lot. By contrast, the pho here—-mostly beef-based with the occasional oddball chicken or seafood version—-can only be described as baroque. The aromas, the flavors, and, believe it or not, the textures can be so complicated and so intense, your senses barely know where to begin. I settle on pho No. 4 mostly because it includes so many ingredients that Americans loathe (thin layers of translucent brisket fat, soft tendons, and even ivory-colored strips of bible tripe, the lining from the third compartment of a cow’s stomach) that I figure it has to be the real deal. After loading the noodle soup with mint leaves, bean sprouts, and pepper sauce, I am struck by the heady aroma of it all. When you have a good bowl of pho, it sometimes seems as if you can be satisfied with the smell alone. The version, of course, has more tangible pleasures, too: the many different mouthfeels of the proteins; the tongue-tickling, cough-inducing heat of the jalapeno slices and pepper sauce; and coolness of the thin rice noodles; the lusciousness of the fat, which flavors everything it touches. The best part, however, is the beef-based broth itself. The longer it sits there, absorbing the fat and the beef and everything else in that bowl, the more complicated it becomes, a broth redolent of earthy spices and cool fragrances. By the end of your meal, you feel like you’re sipping little spoonfuls of God’s own ambrosia.