The Elmwood section of West Hartford is the area's citadel of asian cuisine. It makes complete sense, with the A Dong Supermarket carrying every regional specialty under the sun.
Pho Saigon on New Britain Ave. is a short walk around the corner from A Dong, tucked away in the side of a nondescript building and wedged between a Chinese restaurant and a hair salon.
THE VIBE: Most Vietnamese restaurants skip the decorative frills and keep things utilitarian. Pho Saigon is no different, though their standout feature is a fuchsia wall adorned with backlit food ads straight out of the 80's.
All the essential condiments sit at each table, including sriracha, soy, hoisin, and fish sauces plus chili paste.
THE FOOD: Pho Saigon features its namesake Vietnamese soups ($7.95 for a "small," but sufficiently filling, bowl). Some have Western-friendly ingredients like flank and brisket, while others contain the more traditional tendon and tripe.
Vermicelli and rice bowls ($8 to $9 each) can have the aforementioned starch topped with a choice of grilled chicken, beef, or delicious lemongrass marinated pork. A refreshing blend of mint, lettuce, and sprouts rounds out the filling entrees.
The real deal comes with their Bahn Mi sandwiches. These combine Southeast Asian flavors with the French influence of a fluffy baguette and pate. At less than $4 for most, including the vegetarian options, it's a true bargain.
Wash it all down with a sweet and rich Vietnamese iced coffee made with sweetened condensed milk.
THE BILL: With an appetizer like the spring rolls (broiled pork, mint, and vermicelli wrapped in rice paper for $5.25), two entrees, and drinks, the bill could push $30. But what a satisfying $30 it is.
On the other hand, a Bahn Mi sandwich filled out with sunny side up eggs can easily satisfy a person for only $3.75.
THE PARTICULARS: The restaurant is small with very few employees, and everything is made fresh to order. As a result, don't come expecting a quick eat and run. A meal could take some time, especially when the person serving you is the same one cooking the food. Relax, and enjoy the ambiance of the fuchsia wall.
Pho Saigon is open 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. Friday and Saturday). Credit card accepted.
THE VERDICT: Great food, hand made, at a good price. Definitely worth the stop in for a bite, just make sure to give yourself some time or call ahead if time is an issue.