Pho Dang (Winooski, VT)

One of the things I’ve particularly liked about the Burlington, VT metropolitan area is that for for a metro area with only slightly more than 200,000 people (although that is around 1/3 of the state), it has rather a lot of great restaurants, particularly ethnic restaurants. Indeed, Burlington has pretty much the highest concentration of Vietnamese people for quite a distance, and the area’s Vietnamese restaurant population has grown from the modest two places it had back in 2001 (when we moved here) to a robust half-dozen phở shops. One of these that I had been hearing a lot of good buzz about is Phở Dang in Winooski, so when we found ourselves in Winooski for a recent concert, we decided that pho was exactly what we needed to dispel some winter blues. So we headed off to Phở Dang.

Like almost all of the restaurants in Winooski that I’ve been to, Phở Dang is a fairly informal place, nestled into the first floor of what used to be a single family house, with most of the floor turned into a dining area. That said, it’s quite cozy, with only about half a dozen tables and the ordering counter. This means that the place is often quite packed as well, with diners waiting for both tables and takeout (although I’ve always found that phở is really difficult to do as takeout without it dissolving into mush). But a tabled opened quickly, and the friendly staff asked us for our order.

Being a Vietnamese phở joint that I hadn’t yet been to, it’s hard for me to order anything but the phở, so I ended up with my standard order: phở tái gân (phở with beef and tendon), and an order of chả giò (fried spring rolls).

There’s a rather fine art to getting chả giò just right: the filling needs to be spicy, porky, and moist, while the wrapper needs to be crisp and thin without being soggy with oil. And Pho Dang did a rather good job with this: the filling was pleasant with a nice pork and vermicelli filling with a hint a spice, and the wrappers almost perfectly crisp without being too oily. About the only disappointment? I love the classic presentation of chả giò with lettuce and herbs to wrap around each chunk of egg roll as you dunk into into the sauce, and here they st serve them up with some pickled carrot. Pleasant enough, but these would be a notch better with some lettuce and herbs.

However, Phở Dang hit their stride with the phở tái gân. The foundation of a good phở is a great broth, and they’ve got that part nicely worked out: the broth was rich and beefy, fragrant with lots of beef and star anise notes without being salty on oily. Building on that, they got nicely thin and tender beef, some nicely butchered and simmered tendon that just nicely soaked up the broth, good noodles that were perfectly cooked, and a nice assortment of vegetable toppings, including some nicely sliced thin peppers (too many New England phở places seem not to serve up pepper slices, sadly). For a fairly cool and frosty day, this was a very pleasant bowl of phở.

Overall, Phở Dang is probably my new Burlington-area favorite phở joint, and does an impressive jobs for an area that generally doesn’t have a huge number of Asian restaurants. Adding in a friendly staff and a cozy dining area, and I enjoyed it enough that I’ve love to come back another time.

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