By car, bus, foot, bike or taxi, by all means make trek to Cyclo
Special to The Seattle Times
2414 First Ave. S., Seattle; 206-382-9256; www.phocyclocafe.com
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.
No alcohol / credit cards: MC, V / no smoking / no obstacles to access.
Is it my imagination, or have the lines at Pecos Pit gotten shorter?
That First Avenue South joint, a pulled-pork-sandwich institution since before gentrification transformed the industrial district into a hip downtown neighborhood called Sodo, has a year-and-a-half-old rival the next block down: Pho Cyclo.
"Wow — is it always this crowded?" I asked the waiter on my first visit, gesturing around at the packed tables and knot of drooling Beautiful People at the door. "It's not crowded yet," he answered.
In fact, efficient service and a takeout counter do keep things flowing manageably, which is but one aspect of an operation that, to this critic's mind, is pretty damn close to perfect.
One would expect no less of the Huang family, co-owners (with the Dang family) of Pho Cyclo, who in the early '90s brought us 12th and Jackson's estimable Huong Binh. As in that tidy cafe, careful attention here is paid aesthetics: Bright lanterns hang from lofty ceilings, beautifully rendered trompe l'oeil murals bring Vietnamese streetscapes and verdant farmlands right into the room. The titular "cyclo" — the three-wheeled taxi popular in Vietnam — sits front and center.
As you will want to, the minute you inhale the perfumes wafting out of this kitchen. The menu features appetizers; 10 varieties of pho; noodle or rice bowls topped with glistening charbroiled meats; stir-fried items; and beverages — bubble tea, soybean milk, Vietnamese coffee. Prices are freakishly low for this level of mastery — nothing tops $8.You may sit and enjoy Pho Cyclo's intensely flavorful renditions of these dishes, or step right up to the order desk for swift takeout. Choose the latter if you want one of the cheap lunch specials or one of their terrific $2.50 banh mi sandwiches. Or if you want to spirit something home for dinner (it's open until 7 p.m., closed Sundays).
Choose the former if you cannot resist the opportunity, from your table groaning with glistening charbroiled meats and steaming bowls of fragrant pho, to gloat at the hordes still waiting. (Note to hordes: Reliable rumor has it the Huangs will be opening another Pho Cyclo on Broadway this June. But try to keep it under your hat.)
Eggroll: Very nice, nongreasy, crispy without, fresh within. Two rolls come filled with minced pork, shrimp and vegetables. (Or order one with your lunch special — which, along with a soda, constitutes the "Cyclo-size" option for 99 cents more.)
Pho ga: The broth of this chicken pho breathes the braided essences of cloves, ginger, star anise, cilantro and lots of cinnamon — in addition to whichever meat you choose. I chose the chicken, and got a heap of nicely steamed breast meat along with sprouts, greens, herbs, onions and rice noodles. Substantial and fragrant.
Pork banh mi: I guess one good thing came out of the French occupation of Vietnam: banh mi — the delectable love child of French cuisine (it's a sandwich, built on a crusty batard) and Vietnamese flavor combinations (it's bursting with onions, cucumbers, cilantro, carrots and hot peppers). You choose the meat — exquisite marinated pork for me — and the result is the freshest, crispiest, most savory sandwich I've ever paid the ridiculous price of $2.50 for.
Com thit tom nuong: Order this charbroiled pork and grilled shrimp over rice between the hours of 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and you can grab it for the lunch-special price of $4.75. (It's ordinarily $6.50.) Whenever you order it, however, it will taste terrific: strips of glistening charbroiled pork and flawlessly grilled shrimp upon a huge heap of fragrant rice, garnished with sliced cucumber, tomatoes and daikon radish. It comes with a little dish of the indispensable sweet-and-sour fish sauce, nuoc mam, on the side.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Pho ga (small) $5.50
Pork banh mi $2.50
Com thit tom nuong $6.50
Kathryn Robinson: firstname.lastname@example.org
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