Walking into Pho 43, Milwaukee's latest Vietnamese restaurant located at 2155 Miller Park Way, might be something of a surprise to anyone who has frequented the city's other choices, such as Phan's Garden, Saigon or West Bank Cafe.
The decor is not traditional; in fact, it's quite modern, simple and the lighting is very bright. In many ways, it feels like a fast food restaurant in its set up.
But it doesn't taste like it.
Pho 43 is a sit down (or carry-out) restaurant with full table service. The medium-sized menu, which is written entirely in Vietnamese, as well as English, spans various rice and noodles dishes, but the obvious star here in the pho, and for good reason. Traditionally, pho is a beef-based rice noodle soup that often comes with various vegetable and herb additions on the side.
Today, with a good century or so to evolve and adapt to new cultures, the Vietnamese signature has more of a basic set of base rules, rather than an exact recipe. Pho 43, for example, has 11 different varieties. The first 10 stick to semi-tradition by utilizing a beef broth and include either meatballs, sliced eye round steak, well-done brisket, beef tripe, chicken or shrimp. The last option is a vegetarian one, served with vegetable broth, tofu and vegetables.
The pho arrives fast, steaming and gigantic, with onions and scallions floating on top and a hearty helping of rice noodles sitting at the bottom of the large bowl. The server also brings a beautifully-arranged plate of add-ons -- limes, jalapeno slices, bean sprouts and an abundance of fresh Thai basil -- and there are a series of sauces already on the table -- hoisin, soy, chili and chili garlic.
A bowl of pho here is filling and can easily be a meal. But with its $5.25 ($6.25 for shrimp) price tag, it's more fun to sample other menu items and eat in courses. The restaurant will provide take-home boxes, should you need it.
All the appetizers are priced under $4 and include egg rolls, spring rolls, meatballs and, for the brave, Phoenix talons (chicken feet). Although we can't vouch for the chicken feet, the $3 spring rolls are a worthy investment. They are long and packed with either pork, shrimp or tofu, and vegetables. The thick hoisin sauce topped with peanuts and shredded carrot is a perfect dipping complement.
If you're hungry for something slightly heartier, the kitchen can whip you up a Vietnamese-style sub sandwich. All four varieties come withpork and are served with cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno, pickles carrots and radishes and green onion. Not exactly Jimmy John's.
Other entree options are primarily based around stir-fried rice noodles, crispy pan-fried egg noodles, rice vermicelli noodles, regular fried rice and steamed white rice with your choice of meats. Vegetarians, there is a whole section just for you with seven dinner options.
There is no alcohol served at Pho 43, but that doesn't mean you're limited to soft drinks or water. The beverage menu includes Vietnamese specialties like iced milk coffee, lemon iced tea, lemon juice, coconut juice, soy milk and egg soda.
Pho 43 is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”