A cultural delight has developed in the heart of one of Oklahoma City's historic neighborhoods. Beginning in the 1970s and continuing into the early 1980s, refugees from southeast Asia (primarily Vietnamese) began settling near the intersection of NW 23rd and Classen. Numerous Vietnamese restaurants, bakeries, grocery outlets, etc., were soon opened. As the visual characteristics of the community began to reflect this cultural arrival this area of town earned the nickname "Little Saigon". This community was even featured in a National Geographic article called "73106: Lemongrass on the Prairie."
As the community has matured in a thriving and important part of the greater Oklahoma City community, a more politically correct"Asian District" now identifies the area. Many of the smaller grocery outlets have given way to a large supermarket, Super Cao Nguyen, which provides a multitude of imported grocery items (not just from east or southeast Asia) as well as fresh meats and produce. People from all over the metropolitan area know that this community is the best place for east and southeast Asian culinary arts.
As a celebration for my recent birthday, some friends wanted to take me out for dinner. They left open to me the choice of where to eat and, since they had already taken me here before, I announced that I would love to eat at Pho Lein Hoa. This restaurant features the Vietnamese noodle soup known as Pho (pronounced fuh). Pho includes rice noodles, any mixture of beef (or sometimes chicken), a variety of herbs and spices, and thin transparent broth. Pho will often be served with a side of fresh been spouts, basil leaves, peppers, and limes (for juice) to help add additional flavor and texture to your soup.
Once at Pho Lein Hoa each member of my party had an order of two of their delicious spring rolls. These Vietnamese versions include a rice paper casing filled with vermicelli noodles, lettuce, thin strips of pork and shrimp. The spring rolls are then served with a side of peanut sauce for dipping.
I then ordered the "P9" or the Pho Chin for my entree. This pho is prepared as noted above but the beef preparation was a well done brisket. I did add lots of shredded basil, some sprouts, a couple of slices of jalapeno peppers and a little bit of spicy Sriracha chili sauce. I ate and ate and ate and it was all so wonderful. To me, the best part of the whole bowl was the little bit of broth left at the bottom. By this point all of the excess spices and flavorings had migrated to the bottom and their high concentration within the remaining broth was so over powering and yet amazing. I don't recommend spooning out the excess broth flavor mixture; just pick up the bowl and drink it!
While there are many places within the Asian District, end even in other neighborhoods in Oklahoma City, I will never remove Pho Lein Hoa from my list of OKC's "must eats".
Until next time, happy eating is only an adventure away!