A Damn Good Bowl of Soup at Pho Lena
My first experience at Pho Lena was in 2008, shortly after the space was vacated by the Hen (if you’ve been in Anchorage for a while you know what I’m talking about). I ordered some sort of Thai chicken curry because I didn’t know any better and hadn’t realized yet how wonderful Vietnamese and Lao food are. The best and worst things I can say about that curry was that I remember little else about it.
The next meal I had at Pho Lena was a bowl of a classic pho combo with tripe, thinly-sliced beef, and meatballs. This was in the course of a personal quest to identify the best bowl of pho in Anchorage. Unfortunately, the bowl I had at Pho Lena was not even in my top three in town (number one for me is currently Pho Vietnam on Denali Street). As a result, I didn’t visit this restaurant again for another couple years
Lately, though, Pho Lena has been rocking my world. In the last ten days I’ve stopped in twice and done take-out another time. I’ve had the Pho Kuwchup (no. 25 on the menu) twice, once with crispy pork and once with roast duck. The broth is super flavorful, even before you load it up with Thai basil, fish sauce, chile paste, bean sprouts, etc. The homemade flat rice noodles are tasty and have great texture. Both the crispy pork and roast duck were delicious, though the pork is definitely chewy and fatty so one has to have an appreciation for such things. But my favorite part of this soup is the half-dozen adorable little quail eggs floating in it. They’re damn hard to pick up with chopsticks but that’s part of the fun. Also in the last week I’ve tried a stir fried dish they call Lao Cashew (no. 74) as well as their Drunken Noodles (no. 103). Both of these meals were spicy, flavorful, and filling though neither left my in awe the way the soup did.
I believe that the restaurant has more of a Lao background than Vietnamese or Thai, so the next time I stop by I plan to try Lao-style larb or some other classic Laotian dish . . . though I’ll definitely have to fight the temptation to have no. 25 again!
An Aside about Homemade Rice Noodles
The rice noodles in the Pho Kuwchup impressed me so much that I did some internet research to determine how hard they are to make. Interestingly enough, this seems to be a bit of a home cooking challenge. There are plenty of accounts of failed attempts or disappointing results. There is also not much consensus on the ingredients or techniques required (some of this may be just different types of rice noodles that I’m just not picking up on). Some recipes call for rice flour and some call for blending cooked rice into a paste. Some just involve rice and water; others include tapioca starch and other ingredients. Some recipes include cooking the noodles like a crepe in a non-stick pan, and others call for steaming in a shallow cake pan.
Anyway, this is definitely something I’m going to try someday soon. If I can pull it off, maybe these will be the noodles in the soup I’m planning on making for breakfast someday 🙂