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Pho Lee is a Worthy Addition to Asian Town Center 

click to enlarge eat1-pholee-photobydougtrattner.jpg

Photo by Douglas Trattner

As in the case of SalsaRito, Pho Lee is in a space that has seen more than its fair share of turnover. By my count, this is the fourth Vietnamese restaurant to occupy this spot in eight years. From Pho 99 to Ninh Kieu to Pho Ha Nam, all of them served great pho and other Vietnamese dishes, but the under-the-radar digs deep inside Asian Town Center likely proved insurmountable. Here's hoping that this time is different, because given the quality of the soups sold here, people should be beating a path to the door.

It's always pho season, but colder weather screams for bun bo hue ($11.95), a meatier, spicier and, I would argue, more winter-appropriate brew. The version served here starts with deeply flavorful beef stock and is kicked up in all sorts of ways, evident by the burnt amber hue and pools of red chili oil that slick the surface. Unlike with pho, there's only one version, a hat-size bowl with thin-sliced beef, pork roll, tendon, an unwieldy knuckle of some sort and thick, round noodles. It's paired with an exceptionally fresh garnish plate overflowing with snow-white bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, fried banana blossoms, fresh mint and limes.

The pho, available in models starring rare beef, brisket, meatballs, tendon and tripe — and myriad combinations thereof — is brilliantly clear, clean and aromatic. Bowls are substantial in size, cost $9.95 (except larger combo versions) and include a garnish plate of pristine bean sprouts, culantro, jalapeno wheels and lime quarters. Meat portions are on par with other establishments in the area.

In addition to the soups, the menu offers a couple vermicelli noodle plates topped with spring rolls and/or beef, foot-long banh mi sandwiches, and a platter of sweet, sticky and pleasantly chewy Korean-style short ribs ($10), served with rice and salad. Wash it all down with tall glasses of sugar cane juice ($5) brightened up with a squirt of fresh lime.

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