Pho Hoa is a chain of Vietnamese restaurants with locations in California, Canada, South Korea, and the Philippines. Thanh Le and a partner opened a Pho Hoa in Dorchester in 1992. Another location followed in Chinatown in 2003, then Quincy three years ago.
In March, the popular Dorchester location moved a few doors down and expanded to 120 seats. On a sunny Sunday night recently, a steady stream of families, most with three generations in tow, come in. Toddlers and their grandparents seem happy. Beer and wine for the adults, smoothies for the kids. Even pho, the noodle soup, comes in a children’s portion ($4.50). Other nourishing, golden bowls are ample ($6.25-$7.95), awaiting a squirt of hot sauce and lime juice, plus handfuls of fresh basil and sprouts.
The new Dorchester spot does everything right. Thanh Le’s son Tam helped his father set up the place. A fish tank separates the entrance from the dining room. A partition blocks harsh kitchen lights. On the table, Vietnamese crepe ($7.95; below) is a golden puff filled with shrimp and pork, accompanied by crisp greens. Finger-shaped meatballs wrapped in mint leaves ($5.95) are juicy little delights. Grilled pork bun ($6.50), a bowl of rice vermicelli with lots of crunch, caramelized meat, and a sweet-hot sauce is divine. Shrimp on sugarcane ($9.95) are plump sweet nuggets; but thin vermicelli is flat and hard to eat. Kem flan ($2.95), a Vietnamese custard, is smooth, hardly sweet, and a fine ending to a wonderful meal.
Several weeks ago, Thanh Le’s brother-in-law, Brian Nguyen, opened a Pho Hoa in Malden (the Malden native with us explains that the space held Jordan Marsh’s bookstore in the Stone Age). This spot isn’t as inviting as the Dorchester location.
A shrimp meatball soup is so greasy you can spoon off the fat. Shredded pork skin in spring rolls ($3.50) has nice flavor; roasted quail ($7.95) are delectable, but probably deep-fat fried. Grilled shrimp and pork bun ($7.25) is well made; rice with grilled pork chop, shredded pork skin, and egg omelet ($7.95) comes with a sad fried egg and dry meat.
Pho Hoa is a winning formula and Nguyen will emerge from opening jitters to be another winner. Especially when all those families descend upon him.