Peter Nguyen is a native of Vietnam, but he spent most of his 20-year restaurant career in Chinese food.
Nguyen opened Dragon Palace in 1995 and ran it until 2004, when he opened Oriental Feast Chinese Buffet in Kansas City. In 2012, Nguyen returned to his native cuisine when he took over ownership of Shawnee’s Pho Good Vietnamese Restaurant.
Pho Good is located in a Shawnee Mission Parkway shopping mall next to a wig shop called “Wig City.” The shopping center is sandwiched by a Goodwill store and a Goodyear auto service center — so you could say Pho Good is in “good” company.
Thanks in part to the rising popularity of pho, Nguyen has developed a loyal customer base hungry (and thirsty) for bowls of the Vietnamese rice noodle soup made with slow-simmered broth.
Good pho starts with good broth, Nguyen says. To make the beef broth in Pho Good’s signature rice noodle soup with flank steak, meatballs, brisket and beef tendon ($8.99), he simmers beef bones in a pot large enough to fill 100 bowls to the brim. The clear broth simmers low and slow — Nguyen closely monitors the heat, because if the broth gets too hot, it becomes cloudy. After 10 hours, he removes the bones and adds a spice blend that includes ginger, onion and star anise. The spice infusion takes about three hours.
The broth is served over a tangle of rice noodles with the customer’s choice of beef, chicken, seafood or vegetables (most cost $7.99). Each bowl comes with a plate of traditional accompaniments: leafy cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, thick jalapeno slices and a lime wedge.
Many customers order pho to go: The noodles and toppings are wrapped separately from the broth so they don’t get soggy in transit.
Pho Good’s menu also features several varieties of bun ($7.99), a rice noodle dish with grilled pork or shrimp, as well as chicken fried rice made with coconut ($7.99) and pork chops with egg and steamed rice ($7.99).
Appetizers include egg rolls ($2.99), Vietnamese spring rolls ($2.99) and tempura-battered shrimp and sweet potato fries ($5.99) served with a lightly sweet dipping sauce.
The Vietnamese restaurant also has an extensive drink menu. In addition to soda and iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk ($2.99), Pho Good serves bubble tea ($3.99) in flavors such as pineapple, mango, lychee, coconut and avocado. The top-selling flavor is honeydew. The pale green drink has a slushy, creamy texture and a light, fruity flavor. It’s served with a wide straw that acts as an elevator for the black tapioca pearls, or “bubbles,” at the bottom.
Nguyen says he remembers a time not long ago when Taiwanese bubble tea and Vietnamese pho were uncommon in Kansas and Missouri. These days, the restaurateur has to simmer broth 24 hours a day to keep his customers bowls’ full.
There’s no one way to devour the noodle soup, he says. Some use spoons and chopsticks; others wrangle the noodles with forks. Nguyen, who has pho every day, remembers the first time he saw a customer slurp broth straight from the bowl.
“It made me feel good,” he says, because “I thought I was the only one.”
Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every first and third week of the month. Contact her by calling 816-234-4823, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting @sarah_gish.
Pho Good Vietnamese Restaurant
Location: 10703 Shawnee Mission Parkway in Shawnee
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Free lot
Don’t miss: The fried sweet potato and shrimp appetizer ($5.99), the chicken pho ($7.99), and the honeydew bubble tea ($3.99).
Vegetarian: Order the vegetarian pho ($7.99) or the bun chay ($7.99) — tofu and vegetables served with rice noodles.
More info: On Facebook