Pho Nhu-Y, tucked among car dealerships, health studios and fast-food joints along Route 7 —
West Broad Street — in Falls Church, is easy to miss. But that would be a shame, because this new Vietnamese restaurant makes a darn good pho, the Vietnamese take on noodle soup.
Owner and chef Calvin Nguyen boils beef bones for at least 10 hours to make this delicious broth, which is also flavored with rich spices such as cloves and nutmeg. The result is a mild, but tasty broth that's the basis for at least a dozen phos.
The brisket pho is a good choice — the noodles are plentiful and tasty and the meat delicious and thinly sliced. Other choices include a tripe pho and a vegetarian variety with tofu.
The menu offers just two appetizers, although the phos can be ordered small or large — as appetizers or main courses.
One of the excellent non-pho appetizer choices is the crispy egg rolls that come with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. The other is the fresh garden rolls, which include steamed shrimp, chicken and vegetables, that are served with the oh-so-tasty peanut sauce.
Among main courses, the shaky beef (yes, that's the name) is a nice choice. Cubed pieces of beef — which have been marinated overnight with garlic, cilantro, paprika, lime juice and olive oil — are sauteed quickly in a pan.
"We call it 'shaky beef' because you have to keep shaking the pan so the meat won't burn," Mr. Nguyen says. "You want the outside brown and the inside medium rare."
The shaky beef is served with jasmine rice and julienned vegetables.
Another good main course is the grilled shrimp and pork loin, served on a bed of rice noodles. The meat is tender and has that refreshing marinated-in-lime flavor; the shrimp are nicely seasoned.
The stir-fried seafood and thin won-ton noodle dish is tasty — but eating those crispy noodles with chopsticks can be difficult.
Our spiciest encounter was the excellent Hue beef noodle soup. The tasty, sinus-clearing broth was made with crushed red pepper and the thinly sliced beef was good, but a little too marbled for our palates.
The dessert menu could stand some improvement: of six choices, only four were available and only one of them sounded interesting, the fried banana with vanilla ice cream, which turned out to be adequate.
Which can be said for the service, too. It is speedy and sweet, but untrained (one server was enjoying a spring roll while explaining ingredients and preparation).
The interior is full of mirrors, fake orchids and unflattering bright lights. At the storefront end of the restaurant, is a stage with a drum set and some guitars. On Friday and Saturday nights, the eatery features live music — Vietnamese and American. But, says Mr. Nguyen, it's not a big hit yet, because he is still waiting for his liquor license. And as we all know, he says, "People like to drink when they listen to music."
Mr. Nguyen says he's also planning to make changes to the menu. He would like to offer American-style breakfasts and merge French and American ingredients and methods of preparation (he went to culinary school in the United States) with the Vietnamese, creating a fusion-style cuisine.
But the real reason to come to Pho Nhu-Y is not the location, the interior, the atmosphere, the service, the live music or the impending liquor license or fusion-style cuisine. The reason is Mr. Nguyen's expertly prepared pho. A younger generation might say the "pho" is "phat."
RESTAURANT: Pho Nhu-Y, 1113 W. Broad St., Falls Church; 703/241-8582
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. everyday
PRICES: Starters $3.75 to $7.95; pho $2 to $6.75; main courses, $6.75 to $13.95; desserts $3.25 to $5
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards
PARKING: Strip-mall parking
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible