Pho Saigon Pearl: Local Vietnamese restaurant lights up the palate.
Local Vietnamese restaurant lights up the palate.
By Andrew Leach
Photos by Andrew Leach
Off of North Valley Parkway and the Carefree Highway, in an Albertsons’ anchored strip mall, is Pho Saigon Pearl. Serving up delicious and authentic Vietnamese food, the restaurant is open and bright and features a central fountain for ambiance.
While Pho Saigon Pearl’s emphasis is Vietnamese dishes such as pho and curry, I was thrilled to see some other items that work well with the main direction of the menu.
Our large group started out with an appetizer order of chicken wings ($7). The wings are nice and crispy from cooking and then finished in a flavorful tamarind glaze. The glaze gives the wings a sweet teriyaki-like flavor that’s not too overpowering. The wings are finished off with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and a small side salad. If you like chicken wings, this is definitely a must-try version of a bar staple that’s unique and satisfying. It’s also a good option for someone seeking a smaller-size entrée.
The Vietnamese crepe ($9) is also worthy of a taste. This crispy flour crepe looks similar to a large omelet. It’s filled with pork, shrimp, green onions, and bean sprouts. Denser than a traditional crepe, this version is flavorful and comes with fish sauce. Served with a side salad, it’s easily shared amongst a group of four to six people as a starter.
Our plan was to try a few different style dishes to really get an overview of the menu. First up, the Vietnamese curry ($9). This spicy yellow curry soup is filled with chicken, potatoes, carrots, and taro. It comes in a large bowl and is accompanied by a smaller bowl of white rice. This dish is spicy, and the heat really builds on your palate. If you’re a fan of spicy dishes, it may not be as hot to you, but I found it pretty intense. Overall, the dish was very good and the vegetables were cooked perfectly, as was the chicken.
We also tried the seafood pho special ($10.50). Pho is a broth-based soup with rice noodles, various herbs, and protein. You can select a number of different protein options, including fried tofu. As the name suggests, the protein in this dish is seafood. Served in a large bowl, comes with extra herbs and rice noodles to add to the dish, if desired. The heat level in this dish is noticeably lower than that in the Vietnamese curry.
Moving away from soup, we tried the combo beef noodle bowl ($11). This has a base of cooked rice noodles that are topped with shredded lettuce, carrots, cucumber, and bean sprouts. You can choose from a list of different proteins to add. It’s then finished off with a scoop of peanuts for added flavor and texture. The combo meal version, which we ordered, comes with two small egg rolls. While the other dishes we’d sampled thus far had been all mixed together in a broth or soup, this dish is packed tightly with ingredients, so you might need to eat your way through some of the toppings to get to the noodles.
We couldn’t leave without trying the tangerine chicken ($9). It’s very similar to the orange chicken dishes that you may have experienced at other establishments, but only in concept. The sauce is much lighter in this version and has a stronger natural orange flavor, as opposed to the syrupy version you’re likely to find at other places. Here, the chicken pieces are lightly breaded, fried, and then sautéed with onions and a caramelized tangerine sauce. It’s served with steamed broccoli and white rice and a small lettuce salad with tangerine segments. This is a wise dish to order if you’re unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine, as it resembles a more mainstream Chinese dish.
If you’re a non-adventurous eater, the grilled chicken rice plate ($9) place is for you. A plate of rice with grilled chicken is exactly what you’ll receive. The chicken is cooked with a nice char but leans toward the more bland side, since it’s only seasoned with salt and pepper. There is the option for a side dish of soy sauce or fish sauce. I would recommend adding a little bit of flavor, unless simple grilled chicken is what you’re looking for.
The final entrée of the evening was the stir-fry beef with curry ($10.50). Featuring thinly sliced beef that is sautéed in a yellow curry sauce with a bunch of delicious vegetables, there’s a mix are mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, bell peppers, and broccoli. It’s garnished with fresh herbs and served with a scoop of white rice. This dish had some heat to it like the other curry dish, but again heat level on a palate is very subjective. This is a filling dish and full of fresh vegetables.
While this spot has quite a few tables for in-restaurant dining, I noticed that Pho Saigon Pearl also seems to do a thriving take-out business. This spot is for real and I’m not just being Pho-ny.
Pho Saigon Pearl
3134 W. Carefree Highway #6, Phoenix
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