When Lien Le came to Oklahoma from Saigon in 1992, pho was what Philadelphia Phillies phans called opposing baseball teams in this country. Since then, we've learned that pho does not rhyme with foe but is pronounced somewhere between the start to the phe- in phenomenal and the fa in fa-la-la-la.
We also know now that it's a friend in the battle against cold weather as mighty as chili or stew. It's also a fresh new word for the pun and games of the self-proclaimed whimsical. (Many restaurants - local eateries Pho Ever, Pho Bulous and Pho Nomenal among them - have had fun with their names.) In reality, pho is the Vietnamese answer to beef-noodle soup. But back in Vietnam, Le says it's something more. "It's like Taco Bell or something," she said, trying to describe its omnipresence on the streets of Saigon. The owner of Pho Lien Hoa, 903 NW 23, came from Southeast Asia with a restaurant background. She and her husband spent years working for others in restaurants when they arrived, then 10 years ago they purchased what was then called Pho Hoa. "We changed the name about a year ago," she said. Whatever you call it or however you pronounce it, pho is beef and noodle soup for the bold. Beefy soup bones are slow-cooked overnight to produce the base. The resulting broth is poured into a bowl of rice noodles and served with wafer-thin slices of raw beef on the side. Diners toss the beef into the broth, where it cooks almost instantly. Also on the side is a platter of Vietnamese basil; sawleaf herb, which has an aroma that strongly resembles cilantro; bean sprouts; thin-sliced fresh jalapeno peppers; and lime wedges for a final squirt - all used at each diner's discretion. Sriracha chile sauce and Hoisin sauce are also optional for one last flourish of spicy and sweet. The result is a soup with a rich, beefy foundation balanced by the addition of fresh herbs and vegetables. The rice noodles offer body and absorb the bold flavors.