Excellent pho in Lincoln, NE
On Tuesday my daughter and I had what was probably the best pho I've ever eaten at Pho Factory, in the Vietnamese strip shopping center on 27th St., which just opened this week. I've had a lot of pho, but this beat anything I've had in New York, the pho-heavy D.C. suburbs, or that one great hole-in-the-wall in San José whose name I can't begin to conjure up. Every aspect of it was superb.
Broth: Rich and unctuous, intensely fragrant with star anise. I was worried it might be sweet, like the broth in the terrible, terrible pho we had at Green Papaya a ways up 27th St. soon after moving here (which filled me with despair), but it was not at all. It was the ur–pho broth. Also it probably did not contain MSG, as I didn't get that weird lockjaw sensation I often do when sipping pho broth.
Beef: I asked for the tai (thin-sliced lean steak) to be brought raw on the side, and though the waitress was unfamiliar with that request it came spread beautifully on a side plate and garnished with thin slivers of onion and scallion rings. It was perfectly buttery-tender when dipped into the hot broth. Usually I like some tendon or tripe for variety, but decided to keep it simple this first time here, and was rewarded with the best-quality beef (was it eye round? not sure of the cut) I've had in pho. I'd noticed a raw beef item on the menu (might have been actually called carpaccio), so I probably shouldn't have been surprised that this was so good.
Garnishes: The plate was piled high with extremely fresh bean sprouts (my daughter, who is six, actually enjoyed them; she's never liked bean sprouts before, probably because they're often a little wan), plenty of Thai basil, and—remarkably—huge, crisp leaves of culantro, or sawtooth cilantro. The lime quarters were freshly cut and juicy. I know, who cares about the limes? I do! And if a place is going to make an effort to get everything else right, why not take the extra step and use good limes? I hope this was not all a fluke because the restaurant was only two days open.
Noodles: Well, to be honest I've actually never noticed any differences among noodles in different bowls of pho. They're just noodles, and here they were as fine as ever.
The restaurant space is really swank for a place called Pho Factory (whose owners wisely passed up the opportunity to use a too-clever misspelling). The lighting is good, and there's an actual bar. I'll definitely be back, and I hope I'll be able to someday pass on the pho so I can try some of the other dishes on the menu. This is a very encouraging addition to the Lincoln restaurant scene, such as it is.