Review: Variety, quality makes Pho Ben sure bet, ‘sensory experience’

Pictured is the vermicelli with egg roll and the guava chamoyada at Pho Ben Vietnamese Noodle House and Grill in Sugar Land. (Photo by Stefan Modrich)

I must make an important disclosure up front — Vietnamese cuisine has long been featured on my personal foodie bucket list, but I am nothing if not an amateur when it comes to this delightful corner of the culinary world.

I’ve tried pulled pork Bánh mì (sandwiches) and Gà Xào Lăn (chicken curry). And at Pho Ben in Sugar Land, I discovered the multilayered wonder that is the Vermicelli bowl. (More on that in a bit.)

But any Vietnamese food aficionado will advise you to open your mind and all of your senses to a style of cooking that adheres to a few simple rules, like combining textures, flavors and aromatics, as well as well-known polar opposites like sweet and sour sauces.

There are usually a few different strategies for approaching trying out a food scene that is new or unfamiliar to you. You can do your homework ahead of time, or ask the servers to help you narrow down the hundreds of items in front of you. A list of helpful Vietnamese words and significant mealtimes and dishes is on the wall, for dine-in customers.

Or, like me, you can try both, and then throw in a wild card order that might appear at first glance to clash with your main dish —  the Guava Blast chamoyada ($4).

If you’re a veteran of the Houston foodie scene, seeing this Mexican specialty frozen drink alongside a bowl of noodles and egg rolls likely didn’t faze you. For years, it’s become a regular item in Vietnamese restaurants in Fort Bend County and beyond, in addition to the classic selection of teas and juices: Matcha Frappe, Frosty Mango, and Salted Lemonade.

For sweets and refreshing beverages alone, it is worth a trip to Pho Ben. But I came for lunch, and that was where I found myself looking at a vermicelli bowl ($8.60) with some of the best egg rolls I’ve ever eaten, sitting atop a bed of fresh lettuce, cilantro, cucumber, crushed roasted peanuts, pickled shredded carrots and daikon radish.

These pork-filled, rice paper-wrapped bundles of goodness, known as chả giò, are light but firm on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. They were flavorful and hearty. What impressed me most was the blend of the greens and vegetables, with the peanut oil and cilantro meshing together in between bites of egg rolls that gives the meal a feeling of definition and harmony that is a true sensory experience.

Pho Ben

Address: 3613 Hwy 6, Sugar Land

Hours: 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily

Entrée prices: $7-$10.25

Kid-friendly: Yes

Senior discount: No

Healthy options: Several vegetarian dishes

Star of the show: Vermicelli bowl

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