The next stop on our Boston March was the Super 88 in Allston. Super 88 is a regional chain of Asian grocery stores (now part of the larger Hong Kong Supermarket chain), and the Allston location opened to much fanfare in 2002. In addition to having good Asian produce and seafood section, it also had an onsite bakery and a really good selection of basic Chinese groceries. More importantly, however, was that the front of the store was made into the “88 Food Connection”, a small food court featuring half a dozen Asian food vendors, including Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Bubble Tea, and other wonderful spots. It’s a great little place to meet up with friends and grab a quick Asian treat, so we decided it was also a good stop on the March. And one of those vendors, Pho Viet’s, is one of the better places around Boston to grab Vietnamese food.
For a place that’s basically a stall in a larger food court, Pho Viet’s has one of more expansive menus I’ve seen, with everything from Pho to Cha Gio to several varieties of Banh Mi, all presented primarily with a pictorial menu (with a very rare exception to the “Asian places seem to have lousy food photography” rule) with numbers for us non-Vietnamese speakers to order. While I really do want to try some of their substantial dishes like my favorites Com Suom or Bun Cha Gio Bun Thit Nuong, this time I simply wanted a nice barbecue pork banh mi, and that’s what we ordered.
And we were pleasantly surprised. There’s usually not a huge amount of variation between one place’s banh mi and another, but this one was surprisingly well put together. A nice warm and crusty bun. A flavorful meat with both crispy and meaty notes coming through. Good, crispy, and tangy vegetables. And most importantly, a thin schmear of Asian-style mayo applied as a condiment and not a thick layer, protecting the crustiness of the bread and adding some nice moisture without being too fatty.
All in all, a great stop. I should mention that I’m always a bit hesitant coming here, since the years haven’t been all that kind to Super 88 itself. While highly anticipated when it opened, over the years the quality of the market started to sag. Starting around 2008, some of the live fish started to disappear, followed by the bakery, and some of the nicer products. Shortly after that, the market went from “cluttered but clean”, to “dingy and worn” in a shockingly fast period, and by 2009, most of the other Super 88s closed, and the remaining locations, including the Allston one, were bought by Hong Kong Supermarkets, a California-based chain. If you look by the main entrance, you can still see a now-tattered “Hong Kong Supermarket Coming Soon” banner, but don’t hold your breath. The conversion happened in 2009, but about the only real change was the name on the receipts, and a noticeable decline in overall quality, and a lot of neglect (heck, 4 years later, the building still is labeled with www.super88market.com in foot tall letters, but that web site is long defunct). Depending on my visits (which are primarily to locate obscure Chinese items I can’t get out at >H-Mart, which is now my Asian-grocery-of-choice, and opened right about the time Super 88 started to decline), Super 88 itself alternates between “worn and grungy” and “downright disgusting”). But the food court soldiers on, and is still reasonably decent despite the dilapidation of the associated market.