Cafe Hoang's specialty is pho

December 16, 2011 (CHICAGO)

It begins with rice noodles that have to be softened first in a bit of hot water; they go into the bowl first. Then depending on which pho you get, they'll place thinly-sliced raw eye of round beef in a shallow layer over the noodles.

Then the broth, which is truly the point of difference at each restaurant on Argyle. They add giant white onions and handfuls of star anise to a massive stock pot filled with beef bones, and let it simmer for a few hours.

When that hot broth is strained and poured into the bowl, it cooks the beef within seconds. A handful of freshly-chopped onions, scallions and cilantro is added just before serving.

At the table, you're also presented with a small plate, containing fresh basil leaves, crunchy bean sprouts, a bit of sliced jalapeno and fresh lime. You can doctor up your soup as you wish, but the wonderful aroma needs very little tweaking.

Another delicious soup is the tamarind catfish, which is almost like a Vietnamese gumbo, in that it contains large pieces of okra and comes with white rice.

Again, the aroma is intoxicating, and the hint of tamarind offers both sweet and sour elements that work really well in the soup. Order a strong Vietnamese iced coffee to go along with it, dip your slices of beef into a yin-yang of sweet hoisin and spicy sriracha, and you'll be eating like a native in no time. Cafe Hoang has a second location on Cermak in Chinatown. But there are several places around the region you can find pho.

Cafe Hoang
1010 W Argyle St
(773) 848-9943

232 W Cermak Rd.
(312) 674-9610.

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