- Matthew Schniper
- Among old faves, we love new fare like tod mun.
Mirroring nature’s laws, restaurants don’t typically rise from the dead.
Whatever caused a spot to close — anything from poor management to lackluster food or lack of support — generally keeps a place closed. Once the stove flames are extinguished and the hoods go quiet, a note posted on the door, that’s it.
Unless it’s not. Which starts the backstory of Pho-N-Thai. Originally open from around 2010 to 2015 at 125 N. Spruce St. (now Happy Belly Tacos), the eatery earned a following, though not without hardships, like when a vehicle crashed through its front window in 2012, closing it for repairs for a couple months. (No, it was never supposed to be a drive-thru.)
Last month, owner Soyin Petpradith and her chef and husband Chnay Duk reopened at 2819 N. Nevada Ave. in the former Trivelli’s Hoagie location. (They’ve done a nice job spiffying the small space up, with limited seating; to-go food’s a great option.) Petpradith said she’d wanted a break from running a restaurant, though she did go to work for another Thai place in town for some time. Now, she hopes to go at least another decade, and once again she’s taking on a challenging location that most recently rejected the Jamaican cuisine of Miller’s Café and Take Out.
Pho-N-Thai out of the gate holds more experience, and with their re-launch they’ve once again positioned themselves well with an affordable menu, where the average entrée costs only $8.50. Minus yakitori for now, the Thai and Vietnamese menu resembles their old one, though with some inquiry we discover newly added items. Among them: tod mun, a garlic pepper stir-fry, and the Hu Tieu Kho soup.
Tod mun are fish cakes that are popular in Thailand, bursting with kaffir lime leaf essence and bearing a compressed texture. They have a little red curry spice heat, too, and a sweet side dipping sauce here floats cucumber chunks and sweet red onion slivers for extra fresh bite.
The stir-fry starts with broccoli, onions, zucchini and mushrooms and you choose your topper; we go chicken, which arrives pleasantly chewy, soaking up a nicely garlicky brown sauce that delights in its simplicity. The Vietnamese pork and seafood soup comes with a choice of noodles; we go clear (mung bean) noodles, reminiscent of Korean sweet potato noodles in tooth and snappy starchiness. Both zesty-seasoned ground pork and red-edged, thin-shaved barbecued pork join soft prawns and properly under-tough, knife-scored squid as the protein quotient in a pork bone broth that’s quite mellow, neither very salty nor herbaceous nor spicy nor anise-laced like pho — but lightly sweet in its finish. It’s also a less-fussy-than-pho assemblage, requiring no garnishes atop.
From those newbies we move back into the Thai-favorites realm with a papaya salad starter, all crispy with cabbage, juicy with the shredded green fruit and tomato wedges, and potent with fish sauce over plump shrimp. Pad Thai’s serviceable but not outstanding, overly oily but properly tart and sour with ample wok hay. Since those don’t challenge us at requested hot heats, we order a vegetable Panang curry Thai-hot hoping for a smolder but not a face-melt. The latter occurs, with the chile heat burying all, and later at home I dilute the broth with a whole can of coconut milk; it remains a sweat-inducer.
So, Pho-N-Thai still knows how to bring the heat when called for. And as resurrections go, it’s nice to see Thai food returned to near downtown.