I had my first bowl of pho when I was 14 at a small Vietnamese restaurant in an Orlando strip mall. The beautiful balance of sour, salty and sweet found in each Vietnamese dish wasn’t yet on my culinary radar, so I know the idea to go there wasn’t my own.
I learned new flavor combinations that afternoon and with the ample portion of tripe and beef tendon swimming in the meaty broth, learned a few new textures as well.
At time, I was too squeamish to eat a raw oyster, but the tripe and tendons were so good that I finished the massive bowl, a feat my brother and parents couldn’t touch. See, at this place, as it is at many Vietnamese restaurants I later learned, the pho comes in two sizes. There’s a small, the size a reasonable person can eat at one sitting, and there’s the large, a bowl reaching stockpot proportions that could easily feed two hungry people.
So when the waitress came back somehow balancing all four large bowls, I dug in. I gulped down each rice noodle, chewed each bite of tripe and added every bean sprout, Thai basil leaf, lime wedge and half the jalapeño slices served alongside. It was too spicy to add more.
Flash forward a decade and not a lot has changed. Vietnamese Noodle House in North Syracuse opened in February 2015 in a strip mall ( a trend, perhaps?) at the corner of North Main Street and Bear Road.
Vietnamese Noodle House is a simple name and simply put, it’s a simple restaurant. There’s about a half-dozen tables inside, all of which were empty when my fellow soup slurper Megan and I went in on a snowy Sunday afternoon.
First out of the kitchen were the Summer Rolls ($4.75), a two-pack of shrimp, rice vermicelli noodles, Thai basil, mint, cilantro and other herbs and vegetables, all wrapped in rice paper. The noodles and shrimp kept the intense anise-like Thai basil in check and the fresh mint brought back much-needed memories of summer. The rice paper wrapping was not sticky or gummy in the slightest, a considerable feat and proof that they’re freshly made. Paired with a creamy peanut sauce, it was one of the top summer rolls I’ve had.
Because there’s nothing better than starting off your meal of meaty soup than with more meat, we split an order of Five-Spice Beef Shank ($6.95). The paper-thin slices are served cold, so the rich gelatin in each slice melts in your mouth. The dish’s name didn’t lie and the star anise and clove held up well to the beef. A solid starter.
Next came the pho. Megan got a Small Bowl ($7) with rare beef, brisket, tendon and tripe. I opted for a large bowl of the Special Combination pho ($9.25), which comes with all the other ingredients, plus meatballs.
All the meats could stand on their own, but the brisket, tripe and tendons were exemplary. My one gripe is that there weren’t enough tendons in the soup. That’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever write, but one bite will make anyone a believer.
If spice is your thing, the fiercely intense pepper paste on each table will make you happy. Once you get past the spice, the fruity pepper flavor will keep you coming back for more. The traditional scattering of bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime and chili peppers came with each bowl and a splash of fish sauce and squeeze of hoisin sauce completed the meal.
Just as I did as a teenager, I finished the large bowl. Unlike that time 10 years ago, I had room for dessert. We split a small bowl of Sweet Coconut Tapioca pudding ($1.75), made with coconut milk, and taro root. It wasn’t too sweet and the textures of the viscous cooked taro and tapioca played well against each other. Next time, I’ll order my own.
Address: 709 N Main St., North Syracuse, N.Y.
Phone: (315) 396-0766
- Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.,
- Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Closed Monday.