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Monday, September 12, 2005

Dalat salad

Pho Dalat

Spicy, tangy, and sweet -- in that order -- the wonderful Dalat salad

Relatively new and along a stretch of Sandy that hasn't been kind to restaurants, Pho Dalat has one of the larger menus among Vietnamese restaurants in Portland. It's just east of I-205 making it the closest pho to the airport and the best pho within 10 minutes of my house.

They make every Vietnamese soup I know by name: pho, bun bo hue, bo kho, bo vien, hu tiu, etc. There are over 107 dishes on the menu split into six primary sections, plus you can order family dinners for four, six, or eight. The six sections are appetizers (cac mon khai vi), rice dishes (com dia), beef noodle soup (pho), rice noodles and egg noodles (hu tiu and mi), rice vermicelli noodles (bun), and entrees (cac mon com phan).

The pho section alone has 20 variations, and all the standard meats and offal bits are there: brisket (fatty or lean), top round, tendon, tripe, etc. The meats are always tender and the tripe is even pleasant with a tender, but not mushy, bite and no off flavor. The top round in an order of pho tai often comes still a little pink. The broth is aromatic, yet balanced. The freshness of the bean sprouts can vary, but you do get a selection of herbs that includes culantro, basil, and cilantro. Portions are typical at $4.95 for a small bowl and $5.50 for a large bowl.

Their bun bo hue ($6.75) has quite a latent kick to it. Don't order it when you have a chest cold, every breath of the dried chile laden broth will ignite your lungs. While it's not listed on the menu, they'll ask if you want items like liver included in the soup.

I have found one dish, however, that I cannot avoid getting each visit: the goi tai Dalat (special Dalat salad, $6.25). It's spicy, tangy, and sweet -- in that order. It looks like it might be weighted down with a gooey dressing, but it's really not. The base is a mixture of shredded cabbage, carrots, and onions, accented with cilantro and mint. As the name suggests, it's a beef salad. What I like most about it is that the beef is always ultra-rare, nearly raw, and so very tender. It's a great texture balance between the crispy vegetables and the tender beef. It's become one of my favorite dishes in town.

Pho Dalat isn't a total dive, but it can be cold in the converted fast food building, and the platic booths aren't exactly comfortable. But the people are nice, service is brisk (they actually keep my water glass full), and the TVs, usually tuned to a sports channel, aren't ever obtrusively loud.

Pho Dalat
10232 NE Sandy Blvd
Portland, OR 97220

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