With so many restaurants in South Florida and more opening all the time, just picking where to go for dinner on a Saturday night or lunch on a Wednesday can be an overwhelming task. Sometimes, you just need a reason. This ongoing list of the favorite dishes from food writers who know the local scene will help you discover new restaurants, cafés, and eateries and maybe even a new favorite dish of your own.
Simply Pho You. Pho-Nomenal. Unphogettable. Pho-Show. There's seemingly no end to the pun-fun people can have with the word "pho" when naming their restaurant, and newly-opened What The Pho in Wilton Manors is no exception.
As the name suggests, the one-month-old restaurant serves all manner of Vietnamese cuisine, including several renditions of the country's most famous soup. Here, the menu (and the name) are compliments of owner Huey Nguyen, a Miami-Dade resident who hails from a family of restaurateurs, namely those behind the Miss Saigon Bistro establishments with locations in Pinecrest, Coral Cables, and South Beach.
What The Pho is Huey's first private venture, he says, who chose to open his eatery in Wilton Manors after visiting the area for the first time just a few months ago when a friend showed him a vacant space at 2033 Wilton Drive, formerly occupied by Gregarious Drinkery.
"I just fell in love with the atmosphere, the community, and the people," says Huey. "It felt like the right place to do this."
The restaurant is also a tribute to Huey's mother, Gai Nguyen; born and raised in Vietnam, she taught Huey to cook many of her homeland's most basic dishes while working alongside him as the head chef at Miss Saigon Bistro's Pinecrest location, where she continues to cook.
Today, many of Gai's recipes are also employed at What The Pho, says Huey, everything from hand-made spring rolls to giant, steaming bowls of pho, and puffy Thai donuts fried up into long twists and served with a gooey sweetened condensed milk syrup.
However, there is one section of the What The Pho menu that features Huey's own creation, filed under lunch specials. It's called the Huey Special ($16.95), a bowl-style meal he created several years ago at Miss Saigon's Miami locations. The dish has become so popular, each restaurant now goes through hundreds of orders a day for both lunch and dinner.
So what is a Huey Special, you ask? A Vietnamese version of the rice bowl, of sorts, here a large ceramic one filled with various herb-laced ingredients, specifically grilled shrimp and slices of white meat chicken sautéed with garlic, green onion, chive, and fresh-ground lemongrass, then kissed with a touch of curry spice. Instead of rice, it's all piled atop a heaping portion of translucent rice noodles. If you like it spicy, it's served alongside a thick oyster sauce and vinegary nuoc cham.
There's also a few of those spring rolls added to the mix, slivers of tender pork, shrimp, mushroom, chopped garlic, Thai chili, carrot, and stringy thin noodles rolled into a neat bundle and wrapped in handmade rice paper Huey and his staff prepare fresh each day. They're rolled into tiny, two-inch cigar-shaped torpedoes, then seared and fried to a delicate crisp, packed with flavor.
"Those are my favorite part of the dish," admits Huey. "It took me a long time to learn how to make them just right. Every time I did it wrong, my mother would smack me on the back of the head. I still remember the day I finally got it right."
Try the Huey Special, and they will leave a lasting impression with you, too.
What The Pho is located at 2033 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors. Call 754-779-7769.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.
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