When it comes to pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup is set apart by the quality of the broth; it’s the base that brings all of the other ingredients together. Pho Ong 8 goes well beyond the standard, putting in copious amounts of red onion, scallion and black pepper. The aroma is redolent with star anise and clove. It’s one of a handful of pho places where I don’t feel compelled to throw in handfuls of bean sprouts, chiles, fish sauce and Sriracha.
This intensely flavored soup, dotted with fat on its surface and chock-full of meatballs, flank steak, beef tendon, tripe and rice noodles, was immensely comforting and satisfying as only the best pho can be.
There can be a lot to Vietnamese cuisine, though Pho Ong 8 primarily sticks to the soups. Even then, there’s a lot to explore, such as the mi vit tiem, a wonderfully roasted duck breast immersed in a similarly flavorful broth along with baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and egg noodles. The rich and deep flavors of the soup are satisfying on their own. Pickled garlic, green papaya and chiles are also provided so you can balance the richness with acid, brightness and heat, as you wish. I included so much of that green garlic that my breath stank, and I gave myself heartburn. I loved every minute of it.
Even when straying from the spoon, you can find some treasures. I accidentally ordered the com suon nuong, a grilled pork chop served with rice and fried eggs. The chop was surprisingly tender. When combined with the egg and the nuoc cham chili garlic sauce, the simple ingredients brought some of the same flavor complexities found in the menagerie of the pho.
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There’s a familial aspect to pho, and on any given Sunday, there will be plenty of families coming in to Pho Ong 8 and sharing meals – sitting with loved ones and nursing large bowls of soup while getting caught up with the events of the week – or maybe just recovering from the night before. These chewy, aromatic, salty and fatty bowls are the cure-all for the body and soul.
Pho Ong 8’s logo is the cartoon Italian chef commonly found on pizza boxes, winking at you and letting you know everything’s A-OK. It’s difficult not to feel that way after making your way through a big bowl of soup.
The dining room is clean, bright and welcoming. Service is courteous, through it can take a while if the kitchen has a bunch of orders.
Pho Ong 8
Where: 4857 E. Harry, 316-613-2373
Price range: Entrees are $6.50-$8
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m daily except Wednesdays.