If you are a lady who gets her nails done, you may be aware of the pho effect. (OK, I’m not going to be exclusionary. I guess some men get their nails done. But, let’s be honest, the majority of a nail salon’s clientele are female.) Anyway, the pho effect usually happens when you get your nails done around lunchtime.
You sit down and your nail technician starts chatting. Maybe she’s chatting with you, but usually it’s with a coworker or fellow patron. The conversation inevitably turns to food (it is lunchtime after all) and pretty soon people are comparing the best restaurants to get pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup.
By the time you’re sitting at the drying station, you’re pretty much convinced you need to drive across town for soup. So, you do. Because you’re susceptible to suggestion and pretty weak-willed when it comes to food. And, if you’re in Chicago, you might end up at Tank Noodle Restaurant. It’s known for pho (not as good as homemade so say the nail salon employees, but when is it ever?) If you’re a smaller party, be prepared to share a part of your table with another group. (They’ll sit at one end, you at the other.) If you’re a larger group, be prepared to wait—especially at peak times.
What We Ate
We started with spring rolls stuffed with shrimp, lettuce, mint, chives, and bean sprouts. They’re served with a peanut dipping sauce that is thick and syrupy in a cling-to-the-roll way (that’s a good thing). At first bite, the mint was a touch off-putting, but I got to like it by the end of the long roll.
Before your bowls come out, the server drops a plate with bean sprouts, basil, and jalapeño peppers on your table. I had seafood with rice noodle soup (so not technically pho as there was no beef or chicken). In addition to the noodles, the bowl came crammed with shrimp, “real” crab meat, squid, fish cakes (which were really balls), and vegetables. The fish balls had a very odd texture that I did not enjoy. After I dumped in a few squirts of sriracha sauce (available in the center carousel of each table), I was good to go.
My friend had the duck with rice noodles soup. It came with a side of ginger fish sauce for dumping wholesale into the bowl. Be warned, the duck is served in that traditional Asian way—bones, skin, and gristle floating around. The rest of the soup is also packed with a variety of veggies.
Make no mistake, these bowls are big and not terribly expensive. (Hence, the crowded atmosphere.) I didn’t finish my bowl… not by a long shot.
What We Drank
I stuck with water as I was getting over a cold (and other assorted activities). My friend had a fruit smoothie. Again, the sizes are pretty substantial. In addition to the traditional fruits, you can also get durian and jack fruit smoothies. So, if you’re feeling adventurous, have at it.
This is a very casual, eatery so jeans, t-shirts, jammie pants are all pretty standard. And, because it’s a soup joint near the train station, expect hung over college kids on weekend mornings, but also a sizeable number of families.
Location: 4953-55 N. Broadway (at Argyle). Closed on Wednesdays, but open pretty much all day every other time.