Golden Pho & Grill is a newcomer, but fits right in on Federal

Mark Antonation
More than the standard plate of toppings
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...

The strip mall on the east side of Federal Boulevard between Mississippi and Tennessee avenues has been getting a new façade for the past few least. Maybe the spring snowstorms slowed down progress, but it seems like construction came to a halt once the lumber was up, but before any siding, paint or other finishings could be added. At about the same time the work started, Golden Pho & Grill decided to open in the location previously occupied by Can Tho Pho. It's been operating under an undulating vinyl banner that, while clearly temporary, outclasses the signage of neighboring shops and restaurants, which have been forced to make do with whatever notices they already sported. These are not ideal circumstances for introducing a new restaurant, but the conditions highlight the new kid on the block in a way that may attract a little extra business purely out of novelty.

See also:
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Mark Antonation
New kid on the block.
With a mix of anticipation (for something new and fresh) and apprehension )about something new and maybe not so fresh), Amy and I made our way through the convulsive Federal traffic and through the front door (don't be confused: there are two, use the one on the right) of Golden Pho. Everything looked as it should: cream tablecloths under glass tops, artwork and tchotchkes in vivid reds and golds, a few booths occupied by Vietnamese families, and a couple of bros in college hoodies and pajama pants. The neighborhood had already settled in to Golden Pho, even if the restaurant hadn't yet settled in to the neighborhood.

The host/waiter/conversationalist who seated us and took our initial order was tidily dressed and professional in appearance, so I asked if he was the owner. With a wry smile, he responded that it was actually his wife's place and that he was "just helping out." We placed an order for banh xeo -- a tricky cross between a crepe and an omelet -- and then paged through the remainder of the menu. When our banh xeo arrived, we also ordered pho with rare steak and flank and a bowl of bun bo Hue, proof that Vietnam had mastered nose-to-tail cooking long before it became trendy in the modern porketerias dotting Denver's trendier neighborhoods.

Mark Antonation
Banh xeo.
I say that banh xeo is a tricky dish because it's so easy for the chef to ruin. The combination of rice flour and eggs can be made too thick and eggy, resulting in what looks like an omelet but has the texture of a doormat. Or it can be too thin, resulting in a gritty, oily crepe that has more in common with parchment paper. A perfect banh xeo is thicker than a French crepe, thinner and crisper around the edges than an American omelet, and studded with tender shreds of pork and thin slices of shrimp. Golden Pho's version was delicate enough that I could tear off pieces with my clumsy chopstick technique, yet firm enough to hold together while I stuffed each torn-off piece into a lettuce wrap. The resulting bites encompassed a multitude of flavors and textures -- bittersweet basil leaves, crisp and tangy pickled carrot and daikon, earthy bean sprouts and savory meats -- all married by an addictively fishy nuoc cham dipping sauce that was light on the sugar and accentuated the other flavors like a dash of good sea salt.

Location Info

Golden Pho & Grill

1036 S. Federal Blvd., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help
Steve At Work
Steve At Work

Ok, I'm going to toss this out there. That looks like floating garbage. I see nothing appealing whatsoever. Granted, I've not tried it but I haven't tried sewage either and I'm quite sure both look similar.

Chad A Tet
Chad A Tet

Saigon bowl on feds and alameda. Hands down best pho in denver.

Mantonat topcommenter

@Half Aspen Let me help you out: the bone in the center is a pork hock. The burgundy cube is pork blood that has been cooked until firm and then sliced. The darker meat is thin sliced beef shank. The pale pieces at 7 and 9 o'clock are a type of Vietnamese pork meatloaf made from finely ground pork, eggs, and seasoning - the texture is similar to German weisswurst. The noodles are obvious. The chopped green herbs are basil and scallion. There may be a few thin circles of lemongrass. Unlike pho, there's also a bit more fat on the surface because the broth is made from the meat as well as the bones (pho broth is generally just the bones). There's probably also some chili oil that's been added at some point in the cooking process which adds to the color and surface sheen (to say nothing of the flavor).

Consider that this is the kind of food people have been making around the world for thousands of years. You know it's good because it's filled with things that are good, not because some CIA graduate decided to try and make it look pretty. If you're primarily into skinless, boneless chicken breasts or tidy little cheeseburgers, this kind of food probably isn't appealing - either in appearance or description. But there's really no need to insult an entire culture just to make a point. My photography skills, however, are fair game - although that photo is a pretty good representation of the actual dish, minus the steam rising from the bowl and engulfing your senses in lusciousness (the hue of the photo may skew a little more yellow than reality.)

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