( Hillsborough )
8404 Hillsborough Ave.
Tampa, FL 33615
Tel: (813) 885-9424
I always like to have a good Vietnamese restaurant nearby. This is a universal desire of mine, carried across state and international lines: if I can't get my fish on in a timely fashion, I get all nervous. Thus I was thrilled when a Vietnamese restaurant opened a mere five minute drive from my grandparent's house in Tampa, and was even more pleased when I discovered Pho Quyen was uncommonly good. A few years later, the food is just as tasty and the service staff just as efficient, dishing up some of the more unusual Vietnamese specialities (Salted eels and frog legs, anyone?) to an appreciative and diverse crowd. I recommend it highly.
My first visit, I ordered my beloved papaya salad with pork and shrimp, with a fish sauce dressing. A very nice and fresh rendition, though it could have used a little more cilantro (Sez I). This is about the perfect hot weather meal when you're congenitally unable to eat anything involving pork grease or fried food, and those days happen a hell of a lot in Florida. (I am amazed people actually manage to be fat down there, but humanity is a fascinating and multi-faceted thing). Yeah, I love papaya salad to distraction.
I also scored with these pea greens, a weekly special. Pea greens are my favorite Chinese vegetable, with a flavor pleasantly in between spinach and bok-choy. These were prepared perfectly, with a lovely roasted-garlic flavor, and cooked just-long enough for maximal succulent crunchiness. Aces.
My grandmother and I returned for lunch a few days later. First up was the make-your-own-spring-roll plate, a tremendous $10.95 dollar platter full of a protein of your choice (lemongrass pork for us), vermicelli noodles, daikon and carrot, bean sprouts and other vegetable fixings, and plenty of rice paper wrappers. We ended up having enough left over for two more meals, and the pork had a nice, meaty lemongrass flavor. However, don't be fooled into believing you will roll pretty lovely spring rolls yourself. It is a lie. Your spring rolls will look like misshapen abominations before God, but at least they will taste pretty good. I don't know how the hell little old Vietnamese ladies manage to roll them up into delightfully symmetrical little packages, but it probably involves a chicken sacrifice ritual. Everything worth knowing involves sacrificing a chicken.
My grandmother tried the pho and deemed it mediocre, although she said it perked up considerably when she added various condiments to the shebang. I thought it tasted pretty good post-doctoring but cannot assess pre. Finding good pho is a mysterious art, and the really annoying thing is that good pho in the same restaurant as good entrees is well-night impossible. Hopefully I will be able to taste pho in Vietnam someday soon and thus be able to haughtily proclaim that I KNOW what pho ought to taste like and that is NOT IT to all who ask. Which they probably won't, but I hold out hope, I really do.
If you find yourself suffering a fish-sauce related attack of cold sweats, vapors, and ungodly pain fathomless to man in the West Hillsborough region of Tampa, direct thyself to Pho Quyen and order some Vietnamese stuff. You'll be much happier.