yin to the yang of their 3-year-old Pho Hoa Noodle Shop with its green graffiti walls and tiki-esque touches on Independence Avenue.
But one thing both establishments will have in common is the pho (pronounced “fuh”), a rice noodle soup that’s eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Vietnam.
“Vietnam was a French colony until it gained its independence in the 1950s,” says Nguyen (pronounced “win”). “My father spoke French, and you see the French influences in Vietnamese food, such as the use of beef.”
Nguyen left Vietnam by himself as a boy and ended up in Houston when he was 11 years old. He grew up in Texas, married Vo (who also immigrated to Houston from Vietnam), moved to Shawnee in 1996 and became finance manager for a large car dealership.
“I had a commercial stove put in my kitchen at home because I wanted to make food for many, many people,” he says. “We would always have people over to eat, and they would tell me, ‘You should open a restaurant!’ And that’s what I did: I had to follow my passion.”
Walk into the 4,000-square-foot iPho Tower and you can expect to be served a thoroughly modern meal in this Euro-inspired space. The 125-table restaurant’s vibe is as cool as the LED lights shining from the centerpiece of the space: a 32-foot-long curvilinear bar.
At iPho Tower, meals will be served with baguettes instead of rice, and the Vietnamese version of boeuf Bourguignon is complete with cilantro, peppers and lime wedges. The kitchen boasts a nearly 17-foot-long stove with 30-gallon pots filled with pho broth, which remains a mainstay at both of Nguyen’s restaurants.
At both restaurants, expect to pay less than $10 for a large bowl of pho, with a broth that is subtly seasoned with ginger root, anise seed, cinnamon and cardamom. Thinly sliced, tender, raw steak placed in a bowl of rice noodles is cooked when hot pho broth is ladled over it. It is then garnished with greens and spicy sauces of choice.
Nguyen encourages people to grab chopsticks to sup on their soup.
“Pho is not hard to make; you just have to start with the best natural ingredients and take your time,” he says. “If we don’t have pho on the stove, we don’t have restaurants.”Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soup With Steak and Brisket Makes 6 to 8 servings 2 pounds beef knuckle bones with marrow 1 chicken leg-quarter 1 small red onion to grill, outer skin removed 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger root, pricked with tines of fork 1 pound beef brisket 1/2 cup natural turbinado cane sugar 2 tablespoons salt 2 teaspoons ground anise seeds 1 (4-inch) cinnamon stick 2 large black pods cardamom 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1 (14-ounce) package stir-fry rice noodles 1 pound flank, rib-eye or filet mignon beef steak, thinly sliced Optional garnishes: Green onion, fresh cilantro, Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, thinly sliced jalapeno peppers, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, Sriracha sauce
Into a large soup pot, bring beef knuckle bones to a boil in 16 cups water over high heat. Rapidly boil bones for 10 minutes, while a gray foam rises to the top. Carefully pour contents into a colander placed in the sink. Rinse bones, clean pot and refill with 16 cups fresh, cool water. This step will yield a clear broth. Place beef knuckle bones back into water and add chicken leg-quarter to pot. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Place lid tightly on pot, then turn heat to low and simmer for at least 8 hours.
While stock is simmering, on another burner on stovetop, heat a cast-iron skillet on high. Place whole onion and ginger root into skillet and, turning occasionally, char the outside of both until dark markings appear uniformly on the outside of each. Remove from heat and set aside.
If stock evaporates significantly in the 8-hour cooking time, add up to 4 cups water back to pot to bring level back to 16 cups of liquid. Add brisket, natural sugar, salt, ground anise seeds, cinnamon stick, 2 large black pods cardamom (placed into a tea ball or spice sachet), ground cloves and reserved charred onion and ginger root to pot. Stir ingredients together and bring contents to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to low and replace lid tightly on pot. Simmer over low heat an additional 3 hours, or until beef brisket is fork-tender.
Place a colander over another large stockpot placed in sink. Carefully pour contents of simmered stock into colander, catching broth in second stockpot. Place pot with stock back over low heat on stovetop. Transfer colander contents into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly before handling. Remove meat from beef knuckle bones and chicken leg quarter; discard bones and reserve meat for later use. Using two forks, shred brisket and place into a large serving dish. Add reserved meat to shredded brisket and set aside for soup assembly. Discard onion, ginger root, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods.
On another burner on stovetop, prepare rice noodles according to package directions. Drain in colander placed in sink and rinse noodles with cold water to prevent them from sticking together. Transfer noodles to a large serving dish.
To assemble a bowl of pho: Into a large soup bowl, place desired amount of rice noodles in bottom. On one side of bowl, add desired amount of shredded brisket and place raw beef slices on other side of bowl. Ladle hot broth over all, which will cook the raw steak. Garnish top of pho with greens of choice and serve with optional lime wedges and/or fish, hoisin, Sriracha sauces. Eat immediately with chopsticks and soup spoon.Per serving, based on 6: 706 calories (38 percent from fat), 30 grams total fat (12 grams saturated), 105 milligrams cholesterol, 76 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams protein, 2,252 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.