- Griffin Swartzell
- Their Vietnamese-Cajun fusion comes home with us as a bowl of fatty, aromatic pho.
We’ve found it re-warding to stay open to the unexpected “wow” moments in life, and sometimes that means waiting two days for a bowl of soup.
Pho and Cajun, in the West Wind shopping center at Centennial Boulevard and Garden of the Gods Road, has run out of Cajun pho when we stop in, so we decide to come back two days later, when they’ll have more. And sweet Buddha, was it worth it for that rich, aromatic, flavorful broth alone. It’s murky with fat and spices, with trinity veg, garlic and enough savory depth that we want a bigger boat. That’s before we realize that, among the herbs and garlic bits swirling at the bottom of the container, they’ve included crawfish meat. In addition to the typical Thai basil, jalapeño slices, bean sprouts and cilantro served as a side, the soup’s sold with tender chicken, juicy shrimp and slices of a mild, smoky sausage, plus bell peppers. My dining companion calls it a whole fusion menu in a bowl.
Vietnamese-Cajun fusion has been a done thing for years in certain parts of the country. If David Chang’s Ugly Delicious Netflix series is to be believed, New Orleans has rejected the style as inauthentic, whereas Houston’s diners have embraced Vietnamese immigrants blending tastes of home into Gulf Coast standards, like seafood boils.
Speaking of, we order two of Pho & Cajun’s seafood boils and, though we get skunked on blue crab and crawfish, we enjoy baby clams in mild signature seasoning and head-on shrimp in medium, both sold by the pound. Sure, it would be easy to smother clams in a zesty butter sauce that includes cayenne and a little lemongrass, but we can still taste how fresh they are despite the flavorful sauce. Similarly, we get the sweetness of the shrimp as well as the earthy spice of the sauce. For the latter, we add that same smoky sausage and a side of steamed rice, passing over other traditional sides like corn and potatoes.
We also find joy in the purely Vietnamese flavors on display. Take, for instance, the grilled chicken rice noodle bowl, a dish that can be found at pretty much every Vietnamese restaurant in town. It’s seasoned grilled chicken thigh, vegetables and herbs, rice noodles, crushed peanuts, and a jujed-up fish sauce, simple as can be. But when everything’s made with attention to detail, as it is here, simple can be pretty great. The meat’s beautifully salted and mildly seasoned with a spice mix that includes turmeric. Fresh lettuce and cucumber add a nice crunch, and the sweet-savory-faint spice of the sauce makes every bite as refreshing as a summer breeze.
Bookending with soup, Pho & Cajun does a fine traditional pho, too. We order the combination pho, which sees a crystal clear broth paired with five kinds of beef: filet mignon steak, brisket, flank steak, meatballs and tendon. We can’t complain about any of them, with every thin-sliced piece delicious and toothsome, with tender tendons and herbaceous meatballs winning our love.
We’ll be back, but until then, we’ll be dreaming about a thermos of hot, rich, delicious Viet-Cajun pho broth.