It is cold. There is too much snow. The temperatures are low enough and the snow banks high enough that I wouldn't be surprised to see Jake Gyllenhaal chased into the new library by a pack of wolves. Weather like this needs one thing: soup.
I Love Pho is a pretty obvious destination for anybody who loves a big bowl of flavourful broth. With an assortment of pho and bo bun on the menu, it's easy to find a fragrant soup to infuse some warmth into your bones.
The walls at I Love Pho are a mix of saffron and persimmon, suffusing the space with a flush of warmth, a cheery respite from the glaring white of the snow outside. Around a dozen tables fill up the entire small space, excepting one corner where a tiled counter makes up a small bar with the cash.
Waters are brought quickly after we are seated. We order Vietnamese espresso with condensed milk ($2.50) and soda ($2.50). The restaurant is about half-full. It takes a little while before our food arrives.
The goi cuon ($2.95) at I Love Pho are exceptional, worth a wait. A little longer and more cigar-like than the fresh rolls on menus elsewhere, these rebellious rolls don't have the ends tucked in, so the vermicelli spill out. The inside is wiggly noodles with cucumber, bean sprouts, and lettuce; a slice of BBQ pork is on one side and a plump shrimp on the other. Peanut dipping sauce adds a bit of salty, sweet nuttiness to each bite.
The banh mi ($5.95) bun is soft with a crisp, shattering crust. This one has cold cuts, which I haven't seen anywhere since buying sandwiches from Truy Vietnamese Cuisine at the Dartmouth flea market. Thin-sliced cucumber and daikon, cut thick like a crinkle French fry, add crunch. It's a good sandwich.
We also have banh cuon ($11.95), chewy rice batter crepes filled with pork and mushroom, served with slightly hammy, slightly sweet grilled Vietnamese sausage, a pork loaf with a slightly springier texture than bologna, and a salad of cucumber and steamed bean sprouts. I love this dish.
Ryan gets the cha gio, the gluten-free spring roll ($2.5), which is filled with a pork and vegetable mixture, with a crackling, oily shell. It's served with an addictive sweet chili fish sauce. He also orders a perfect brunch: a rice combination ($12.95) that comes with a pork chop, a slice of tender meatloaf, grilled sausage and a fried egg. The egg is over hard—runny yolk would put this over the top.
Sarah has the Special pho ($11.95), which radiates warmth when it is served, perfumed steam curling through the air. Fatty brisket, spongy tripe and hot-doggy beef balls add an assortment of meaty textures. The fragrant broth is clear, salty and savory. It's an ideal pho.
Twigs of basil, tufts of cilantro, and a pile of sprouts are provided, along with birds eye chilis and lime. Sarah plucks from the piles to add to her soup, while I wait for my bun bo ($11.95). The service is staggered awkwardly, so I sit for four or five minutes waiting while my friends eat.
The bun bo has brisket and the same thin slices of pork loaf sausage that came with the banh cuon. The broth is aromatic with lemongrass, spiked with chili: bright orange oil slicks pool on the edges of the bowl. I slurp up the squishy noodles, enjoying the tangy heat. All I can think is "why isn't this place called I Love Bun Bo?"
I Love Pho
746 Bedford Highway, Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm
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