Before heading back up to school, I met up w/ C and Buddha-san at Pho Dai Loi for some food. The first thing you should know about this plaza is that the parking straight up sucks. Cars cramped and old Asian drivers everywhere - the two combination doesn't bode well for your car (I'm Asian too btw). Luckily you can be in and out as Pho Dai Loi has speedy service and the food comes out in minutes.
After sitting down, the waiter pushed us for our orders like we knew the menu already. If you're not used to eating at Asian restaurants this might be pretty uncomfortable but it's pretty common so don't be alarmed. Just tell the waiter/waitress that you need a few minutes to look over the menu. After browsing through the menu, we ordered a variety of different items. Instead of butchering the language and humiliating ourselves, we just ordered with the conveniently placed numbers next to each item's name.
Buddha-san and I started out with the spring rolls. Both the rolls and the sauce were pretty good. They were wrapped tightly so the filling didn't just fall out after the first bite (always a plus). As much as I want to go into detail about a spring roll...there really isn't too much to say. It was good and not a bad way to start the meal. Let's leave it at that shall we?
Soon after, our mains started pouring out of the kitchen. Our pho, #26 (Vietnamese beef stew with French bread), #29 (vermicelli with marinated shrimp) and #39 (jasmine rice with steamed omelet and grilled pork chop).
The pho was good. It was deep, aromatic and soothing which is perfect for a rainy/cold day. I've had better but Pho Dai Loi's version was a helluva lot better than the one I'm forced to eat in Athens. The pho already comes with cilantro in the bowl so if you're not a fan of this herb, tell the kitchen to leave it off.
The vermicelli was also good stuff. Beneath all that mess is a bed of lettuce and the vermicelli comes with a side bowl of sweet and sour sauce (kinda like the one that accompanies the fried spring rolls). The sweet and sour sauce mixed in with all of the bowl's components adds a nice flavor to the vermicelli. I liked everything in the bowl but it got kinda boring to eat after each bite. I still recommend it if you like vermicelli.
The beef stew was by far my favorite dish of the evening. It's a comforting, somewhat spicy beef stew accompanied by a warm, crusty French bread. It's an absolute pleasure dipping the bread into the soup to suck up all that delicious flavor. The meat is super tender and I really enjoyed the dish overall. I wish it came with 2 French breads instead of 1 like the menu shows because you still get a lot of soup left over. The Korean in me wanted to order a side of rice and dump it in. Even more shocking than how good the stew was? From what C told me, this wasn't even the best rendition of this dish. I'm gonna order this at every single Vietnamese place I go until I find my favorite in Atlanta. Thanks for ordering this for us C!
Next was the rice dish accompanied by a mixture of foodstuffs which included a steamed omelet, Vietnamese sausage and pork chops. Buddha-san wasn't particularly a fan of the sausage as he found it a little tough and indeed it did have a little bite to it. I'm not too familiar with Vietnamese sausage so I referred to our expert (C) and she told us that it's supposed to be somewhat tough. I guess it's a little more noticable when you eat the sausage by itself because I never noticed this when eating it on a bahn mi. Regardless, it was still good. The pork chop was also pretty good. I liked the sweet glaze and even though it was cooked throughout, it wasn't tough like leather.
C ended up ordering the durian smoothie at the end of our meal and I have to say it tasted a lot better than the one I had in Athens. It was a little sweeter and the durian had a stronger presence. You're still left with durian breath after so make sure you have gum or mint in handy if you're not heading straight home.
I enjoyed my experience at Pho Dai Loi - for the price you get huge portions and every dish is executed pretty well. Don't come in expecting warm, fuzzy, friendly waiters but service is hasty and the food comes out quick. While you can always go hungry by yourself for a quick and tasty meal, an accompaniment with great companions will make your dining experience that much more enjoyable.
Oh and while waiting for C (she was running a little late), Buddha-san and I went into El Quetzal #2 down the plaza and grabbed a few tacos. For $5.95 we got 3 tacos from several flavors to choose from. Unfortunately, I don't remember which varieties we ordered (the middle one is chorizo I think) but both Buddha-san and I agreed that the tacos weren't bad. I personally thought they could've used a little more seasoning and bolder flavors but at $2 a pop, it's not a bad deal.Of course, chips & salsa are provided and the tacos are accompanied by a verde sauce. The verde has quite a kick - really spicy. You've been warned!