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Aug 7, 2006 02:10 AM

Pho Bac in Mt. Pleasant, SC: Noodle lovers rejoice!

I just got back from dinner at Pho Bac, the new Vietnamese restaurant located at Fairmont Shopping Center adjacent to Anna Knapp Plaza in Mt. Pleasant, and I'm happy to say they serve the best pho (the famous Vietnamese soup of rice noodles and meat in a slow-simmered, complex beef broth) I've found in the Charleston area. Okay, so Charleston only seems able to support 2 Vietnamese restaurants at a time. Even as Pho Bac opened, Binh Minh in North Charleston closed. Binh Minh and Kim Long, also in N. Charleston, were the only two true Vietnamese restaurants in the Charleston area the last couple of years. The owner of Pho Bac is also the owner of Kim Long, so I suppose a Vietnamese cuisine monopoly has now been established in the area.

I never liked the pho at Binh Minh, and the pho at Kim Long went downhill after their pho specialist defected to the Golden Rivers Chinese Buffet, establishing it as the area's best bet for pho for awhile, strange to say. And as much as I love pho, paying for an entire super buffet just to get a good bowl of it was far from ideal.

All of this is to say, I did not let my hopes get too high prior to my first visit to Pho Bac. My pessimism proved to be unwarranted. Not only does Pho Bac offer the best pho I've had in Charleston, it ranks right up there with the best I've had, period, and I cut my teeth in the pho shops of Charlotte, which boasts a very large and vibrant Vietnamese community and restaurant scene.

Pho Bac is, as its name implies, a true noodle house. The menu is short and simple, featuring pho, a couple of other noodle soups, bun (Vietnamese noodle salad), and a selection of broken rice dishes in addition to a few appetizers, Vietnamese iced coffee, and various fruit shakes with tapioca pearls (their take on bubble tea). As soon as my order of pho tai (pho with rare beef) came to the table, my hopes began to rise. The large bowl of pho looked and smelled the way good pho should, PLUS it was accompanied by basil, sawtooth herb, lime, bean sprouts, and sliced pepper--all of which I consider pho necessities, though I've found this array often suffers from omission or substitution at many restuarants. (As a side note, I was once served lemon with my pho at Kim Long, despite having previously been served lime at the same establishment. I consider lemon juice an inferior addition to pho broth, so I asked if they could bring me out some lime slices. Our server agreed and promptly brought out several more slices of lemon!) One taste of Pho Bac's pho promptly confirmed that this was the real deal. I quickly squeezed in a little lime, shredded a bit of basil and sawtooth into the broth, added a few sprouts, stirred a slice of pepper around the bowl for a few seconds, and then proceeded to slurp. Heaven! The Saigon-style broth balanced sweet, salty, and umami against the sour of the lime juice, the bite of the bean sprouts and fresh herbs, and the residual spiciness from the pepper slice. The rice noodles were just right, eminently slurpable but not overcooked, and the thin-sliced beef was tender and plentiful. But it's the broth that is the stuff of addiction. At its best, pho broth achieves a complexity rivaled by few other foods, and Pho Bac's version was very, very good.

My wife and I finished our meal with cold drinks, hers a jackfruit shake with pearls and mine a traditional Vietnamese iced coffee (with plenty of condensed milk), my traditional "dessert" at pho shops. Many like to drink the iced coffee with their pho, but I find the two compete against each other, so I prefer to delay the iced coffee until my bowl is empty. Instead, I've found Sprite is the perfect accompaniment to pho, with its sweet/sour balance never overpowering the delicate balance of the broth.

We also enjoyed an appetizer of Vietnamese-style fried egg rolls, and my wife enjoyed a bowl of bun with grilled pork. But the real star was Pho Bac's pho. Lovers of pho, of noodles, of Asian cuisine, follow that star to Mt. Pleasant. Let's make sure this place stays in business. I don't want to have to drive all the way to Charlotte ever again to get my pho fix!

Pho Bac Cafe
Fairmount Shopping Center
1035 Johnnie Dodd Blvd., Mt Pleasant, SC
843 849-6743

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  1. Thanks for the great review. Never had Pho and have read about it at Chowhound and just chaulked it up to one of those things that I would not have in the Charleston Area. But being a true CH I will be there to try it and I love rare beef.

    3 Replies
    1. re: 1 wiener hound

      Thanks, wiener hound. Considering the very small number of Vietnamese restaurants in the area, I was quite suprised to find pho this good. Now, I just hope they stay in business and keep their current chef. Pho recipes are often closely guarded secrets and Vietnamese chefs tend to take their recipes with them when they leave, as seemed to happen at Kim Long.

      A word of explanation about the rare beef in pho tai. Basically the beef is thin-sliced steak that is dropped raw in the hot broth before it is brought to the table. By the time it reaches you, it tends to be medium rare. Give it a few swirls with your chopsticks and it will cook all the way through. I mention all this because the first time I ordered pho (about 10 years ago or so), I got it to-go and was a little disconcerted to discover when I got home that one of the containers contained raw beef. To-go pho is almost always packaged in its component parts so that you can assemble it at home and have the freshest pho possible. Depending on how long it takes you to get home, you may want to reheat the broth to make sure the beef cooks, unless you like your beef really rare!

      1. re: 1 wiener hound

        I just ate at Pho Bac Mt Pleasatn and it was terrible! Coming from Seattle, where soup shops are on every corner, I was expecting at least alittle similiarity...but was and am very disappointed at this Pho Bac restaurant. The prices are unreasonable, the soup portions are ridiculous and the service was horrible! $8.25 for a small soup (and I mean small!) is outrageous - save yourself the trip and eat somewhere else...even Golden River's soup is better and for $7.95 you get a drink and all u can eat soup PLUS Mongolian grill and buffet if you want!

        1. re: sweetnsour

          Maybe you were eating at Chic-Fil-A by mistake? ; )

          Pho Bac serves some of the best food I've ever eaten, and that's saying quite a lot.

          The owner is a really great guy, and the food was sublime. It was my first Pho, admittedly, but the Bun dish we had to accompany was easily the match of any in the U.S. Awesome experience.

      2. Lowcountry Jon: I guess I am not a total hound in that I have wanted to go to the Binh Minh and just never got around to it. There was always something else that caught my eye. It is always nice to have a review from some one you trust to motivate you to set in the door. Is Pho Bac just a to go shop? That's good to know about the beef. My wife and I are both knock the hooves and horns off people so we will fish that beef out immediately if eating on premisis.

        1 Reply
        1. re: 1 wiener hound

          Pho Bac does have a dining area, small but neat and clean and not too busy when we were there, but we went at an off-hour. I definitely recommend eating pho on the premises so you don't have to worry about the broth cooling off.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. We have been to Pho Bac three times over the last couple of weeks. I find it delicious, with portions bigger than you can finish and seems fairly priced. The vietnamese eggrolls have been a great starter, followed by the pho (we have had the chicken). You definitely do not go for the ambiance, but the service was friendly and quick.

            1. Hi! I'm the owners' daughter - the heiress, if you may (I'm not joking). It's nice to hear that most of you like our restaurant. I didn't know the food was that good. I guess it's cuz I've been eating my mom's cooking since I was born (my mom's the chef @ Kim Long and she cooks @ Pho sometimes when my dad needs her) and gotten use to it. I eat that stuff every day so it's just the same for me. I'm sure my parents will be glad to hear what you guys think! Peace!;)

              3 Replies
              1. re: EmoGirl843

                I just had a bowl of Pho #6 at the Pho Bac at Northwoods. I think you might have served me. I have to say, the pho - it's not only beautiful, with those tender thin slices of eye of round, still pink in the middle, resting on a generous bed of noodles in its hot fragrant broth, but it's also absolutely delicious - a deep, rich explosion of perfectly balanced flavors, accented with fresh basil, bean sprouts, and hot sauce. If they weren't also unforgettable, the pho would have erased my memory of the fresh spring shrimp & pork rolls I ate as an appetizer. Also gorgeous - they featured perfectly spaced slices of shrimp, bright orange contrasting with the green of fresh, crisp lettuce that they rested on, and all wrapped in a diaphanous veil of thin, tender rice paper. I'm impressed, and I'm used to the restaurants in Falls Church, VA, and suburban D.C. (Rockville, Bethesda, Silver Spring), where there seem to be as many pho houses as there are Starbucks. Your food is at least as good, if not better, than most of the restaurants there...but you have something that many of them lack - the great service you gave me, bringing out each part of the meal, and the check, on time, right when I needed it, but before I started to think about it, and all with a friendly smile.

                Thank you!

                1. re: JRinker

                  Hey guys and gals, Pho Bac is back in Mt Pleasant, same place good foods, better than ever. New number is 843-884-4227

                  1. re: tompham

                    Awesome. Why the heck did they ever move out to that creepy spot in North Charleston? Glad to have them back closer to town. Will visit this summer.