- Matthew Schniper
- Bun bo hue, spicy beef soup, tops the average pho bowl, and pairs beautifully with an oolong cheese tea.
Words I never thought I’d be typing out: “Cheese tea could be the new bubble tea.”
Actually, they’re not my words. A writer for Eater named Esther Tseng wrote them as a headline in a fall 2018 article about how Asia has inspired a trend that’s slowly sweeping the U.S., in which teas are capped with a thick layer of salt-spiked cream cheese and milk. Search the web and you’ll find many more articles from cities around the country.
I had heard nothing of the matter until visiting the newly opened Pho Buddy near the Sand Creek Library — which to the best of my knowledge is the first to introduce the drink in the Springs. At the top of their drink menu, I immediately noticed five variations of “salted cheese” drinks, which initially made me think of something like Middle Eastern doogh, a salted yogurt concoction. In fact, it’s nothing like that, and more akin to a creamy foam layer atop your average latte, but thicker with a notable cream cheese finish, and both salty and sweet from added sugar. Instead of stirring the “cheese” in, it’s advisable to either drink from the top and allow the tea to diminish the cream with each sip, or plunge a wide boba straw between the two layers as you drink. In my oolong tea, for $3.45, it reminds me a bit of a common Thai iced tea due to the thick creamy sweetness and the quickly addictive quality — like, you could easily punish a couple or a few of these if you aren’t watching your sugar consumption.
- Matthew Schniper
- Vegetarian fried rice holds an abundance of egg but also tofu cubes and mixed veggies.
Our server, Minh Tran, tells us the drink started in Taiwan, and that her family recently moved to the Springs from California (where cheese teas are more widely popular) specifically to launch Pho Buddy, after some favorable market research — she also said her family felt like people were really friendly here. Her brother Tommy acts in the chef role, having attended a culinary school in Switzerland, he says, and both of their parents help out in the kitchen as well, all having originally moved from Hanoi to the U.S. Collectively, they’ve done a great job enlivening the former Mi Viejo San Juan and Julie’s Bar and Grill space. Pendant lights guide the eye back to a smoothie bar lit with some neon, behind a service counter (at which you pay at meal’s end), and wooden half-walls split the large dining room into a couple sections. Three large TVs loop Vietnamese travel and cooking shows.
From the many standard pho options, we select a seafood rendition that sports a fine, shrimp-forward broth with a mild herb finish, and a generous amount of prawns, squid and whitefish hunks amidst the vermicelli noodles. It rates perfectly average to elsewhere in town, easily providing two meals for $8.95. Another similarly priced but more outstanding soup, bun bo hue, spicy beef soup, hosts thicker rice noodles, meatball slivers, brisket slices, tendon pieces, onions and chile oil that stains it a dark crimson; like pho, it arrives with a side plate of optional lime, bean sprouts and basil.
Location Details Pho Buddy
Both a vegetarian fried rice and com tam dac biet, broken rice with pork chop, arrive with a killer chicken broth on the side, one containing scallions (for the broken rice) and the other floating cilantro cuttings. You can sip it solo or do as Minh says people typically do in Vietnam, and dump it over the whole plate to soak and flavor the rice. Egg bits and flavor pleasantly dominate the fried rice (the menu notes an egg-free option too), while tofu cubes and a mix of peas, green beans, carrot and corn pieces add roughage, as does a small garnish of pickled carrot threads. It’s a mild and fairly dry dish, so you may wish to add sriracha or hoisin, each set with cutlery and chopsticks on the tables. The broken rice, which also comes with a salty, crispy shrimp cake and usually a pork cake (they sub two fried eggs on mine as they’ve run out of pork cakes) delivers a thin, charred pork chop with a sweet glazing; it’s delicious but disappears quickly as a small portion. Still, the plate as a whole fills the belly.
Not wanting to miss the “real fruit” smoothies, which we’re told do contain some powder too, we opt for the tropical flavors of jackfruit and soursop. The boba has run out this day, so Minh delivers us gooey cubes of aloe, with which we’re quickly content. The jackfruit holds a hint of tang and a star-fruit-like taste, announcing it definitely sprang from an island, while the soursop brings a faint sourness, nothing like lemon, which may be muted by the drink’s sweetness. Either are a fine option, but for a first visit, of course you’ve got to try the cheese tea.