Pho 96 keeps it warm and simple
In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard -- south to north -- within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on this week's stop...
Mark Antonation Pho 96
Mexican. Pho. Mexican. Pho. Mexican. Pho. Are you sensing a pattern here? Don't get too used to it, because this week's destination on my all-Federal tour is Pho 96 -- the last restaurant before Mississippi, a key signpost that I'll be entering a zone with more diversity (although far fewer Mexican restaurants). In addition to pho houses, the next couple of blocks offer other Vietnamese specialties like banh mi sandwiches and boba teas, as well as restaurants peddling the cuisines of Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Get ready to fasten your seatbelts as I chauffeur you through a series of pothole-riddled parking lots, strip malls in various states of rehabilitation, and tiny dining rooms serving some of the best food in Denver.
But first, relax while I enjoy a little noodle soup at Pho 96. The owners of this pho shop run a quiet, tidy operation. Subdued and polite aromas beckon to you like distant relatives meeting you as you disembark into a modern airport after a long flight. It's not at all the sensory overload of parachuting into a steamy jungle of spices, fryer oil, fish sauce and murk. The menu is precise and edited, with four brief sections dividing all dishes into noodle soups, noodle bowls, rice plates and appetizers. There's little to entice the adventurous or scare the novice, save for the standard pho beef options of tripe and tendon, which are neatly sliced and mildly flavored at Pho 96.
Mark Antonation Pho with rare steak and tendon, my go-to order
My wife and I combed the menu for something unique or unfamiliar before settling on an appetizer of chicken wings, a bowl of pho with rare steak and tendon, and a combination rice plate that covered all options -- a little grilled beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp laid out over bright, fresh lettuce with a couple of dainty fried egg rolls tucked next to a dome of rice.
The food at Pho 96 is all prepared and served with the same care and precision as the menu layout. The chicken wings sported crisp, golden-brown skins around juicy interiors, even if the seasoning was minimal and the accompanying sauce was only vaguely hot and tangy. The grilled meats on the rice plate were tender and shot through with just the right amount of char. The pho broth was pleasantly beefy, but with no complexity or distinguishing character.
Mark Antonation Rice plate with grilled meats and egg rolls.
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