Reflections on Stripmall Eating

Friday, February 17, 2006

Goodbye Saigon

Name: Pho 38
Location: Route 38, Pennsauken, NJ
Personnel: Me
What I Ate: Banh Xèo Chay; Com Thit Nuong Bi Cha
Condiments: Nuoc Cham
Bill Total: $18
Observations: This particular strip mall has seen better days. Back when Flower World was still open and filling the parking lot with lawn tchotkes, Pho 38 was another Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon. Saigon was pretty good, and it had an elaborate fountain inside as well as a big aquarium—fancy, but in a way that was kind of decadent and depressing. Now the shopping center is all but vacant, the fountain is dried up and unplugged. Saigon has become yet another pho restaurant named after a number. (Good for remembering the address, but not so great for marketing purposes.) The aquarium is still there, though, and now there's a rotary shot dispenser on the bar that's filled solely with cognac. And fortunately, the food is still better than decent—as good as anything on Washington Avenue. You've got your array of pho, of course, each kind with one less meat than the next. There's steak, and steak and flank, and steak and flank and fatty tendon. And so on. I enjoyed the vegetarian Smiling Pancake, at once crisp and creamy, aromatic with coconut milk and punctuated with a smattering of cool mung beans. Of the many rice plates I chose the one with shreds of julienned pork, and slices of sweet marinated grilled pork, plus a wedge of egg cake, all of which got doused in tangy nuoc cham. Very tasty. Which is good, because Pho 38 might be this plaza's only hope for salvation.

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