Taste Pho & Noodle House

Taste Pho & Noodle House recently opened in the University Town Center where Earth Fare, Midnight Cookies, and Discount Tire are located. It occupies the small space where Fresco Neighborhood Italian once occupied. While the food is very similar to the original Taste up on 39th Avenue, this restaurant is a little bit perplexing.

For one, if anyone remembers the old Fresco, the interior remains largely unchanged. The small but prominently placed bar in the restaurant is now nothing more than a place where they set their soda machine, condiments, and cash register. Which is a shame because they are trying to make themselves into a quick service place a la Bento, but don’t make use of the bar at all. The black vinyl tablecloths and black chairs make me feel like I’m in Christian Grey’s breakfast nook. IKEA enthusiasts will recognize the giant photo of the Brooklyn Bridge (Premiar, $119.00 if you’re an IKEA Family member like me!) and the black ceiling lamps above you (Hektar, now on sale for $59.99).

The waitress that greeted our table seemed like it was her first day in life, giving stoic one word replies, exasperated “ok’s”, and constantly asking if I wanted a refill on my drink. I just sat down for 5 minutes and drank half of my tea, what do you think? Beyond a utensil-less table, drink spillage, and lack of a smile, we played the dreaded game of “what didn’t you run out of?”

Let’s try the Taste Wings (crispy wings tossed in a tangy, gingery, spicy sweet sauce). Oh sorry, we’re all out. Well, how about the Grilled Short Ribs (marinated and grilled a la Korean Kalbi). Nope, out of those too, no more short ribs in the house. Alright…what about the Vietnamese Summer Rolls (pork and shrimp with lettuce, rice noodles and sprouts). Yeah sure, but we ran out of shrimp so it’ll only be pork. How are you out of all this stuff? There was only one other table in the restaurant, and it was one guy! The waitress, clearly defeated, muttered “our owner needs to…get more stuff.”

The food we did get to try was served to us in shallow plastic containers, likely the same as what you would get if it was to-go. I don’t know about you, but trying to eat a big piping-hot bowl of noodles in broth FILLED to the brim is dangerous. Naturally, hot broth spilled all over Christian Grey’s fine vinyl textiles despite my best efforts. Frustrated, I focused my attention on the inexplicably cold fried dumplings that were hastily thrown onto a plastic dish of lettuce.

The Hu Tieu (rice noodles with pork slices in an onion, scallion, and cilantro broth) is the same bouillon broth for $7.50 as what you’d get at the original Taste. The meat is dry, the noodles are on the overcooked side, and the broth is flavorful. It’s not the worst, but nothing to write home about. The Pho Ga (pho with chicken instead of beef) was the same thing for $7.50. The Grilled Pork Noodle Bowl ($9 – rice noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers, peanuts, and pork) had good flavor in the meat, but the noodles were plain with no sauce or flavoring on them. I was expecting something like a Bun Bo Xao, where you get a sweet citrusy fish sauce to pour over them. Oh, and I had to get my own hoisin sauce and Sriracha.

In a pinch or if you’re looking for take out, this is an acceptable option. It’s certainly priced correctly for what it is. But the service was bloody awful and the restaurant has an identity crisis. The layout and the TVs rotating their food above a register at the counter would imply counter-service, but you order at the table. The waitress sets a number on your table, but takes your order when you sit down. There are two self-service trashcans at the entrance like a fast food restaurant, but you don’t clear your own table. The soda machine takes up a hefty portion of the unused bar, but you don’t get your own drinks.

If the restaurant just committed to the quick service concept and followed through on their attempt to emulate the Bento model, it would be fine. This is the kind of inexpensive concept that would appeal to college students. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I miss Titi’s Café. Titi, please come back. Your food was the best. I miss your pho broth made from simmering real meats and bones for hours, your delicious crispy duck, and your real bowls.

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© 2020 by Ken Peng & Ken Eats, LLC. Title image courtesy of Jesse Adrian Scanlon Media.

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