Pho Factory combines great food, elegance

2012-11-16T08:30:00Z Pho Factory combines great food, eleganceBy JEFF KORBELIK / Review JournalStar.com

Khanh Nguyen said the best cook she knows is her mother, Thuy.

So when Thuy Nguyen asked her daughter whether she had any interest opening a restaurant with her …

“I couldn’t pass that up,” Khanh said.

The Nguyens opened the Pho Factory, a full-service authentic Vietnamese restaurant, in the new strip mall built by Thuy Nguyen, who also owns and operates the Vietnamese grocery, Little Saigon.

The restaurant specializes in pho, a rice noodle soup that is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. The menu also features rice platters, noodle bowls, clay pots and stir-fry as well as some of the best appetizers around.

North 27th Street is home to several Vietnamese restaurants, but the Pho Factory is one of the few -- possibly the only -- with a license to serve wine, beer and mixed drinks.

The new restaurant also is one of the nicer eateries in Lincoln, bordering on upscale, with its granite tables, impressive light fixtures and servers dressed in black.

The atmosphere rivals many of the fine dining establishments in downtown Lincoln and reminds me a bit of the new Issara, the Asian fusion restaurant that recently opened in southwest Lincoln.

Food

Khanh said she, her mother and Vietnamese chef Khuong Nguyen created the menu.

Their idea, she said, is to focus on pho, but also include entrees, such as the clay pots and house specialty dinners (Korean short ribs, crispy chicken, etc.) that may not be found at other Vietnamese restaurants.

Diners won’t be disappointed.

A longtime pho fan, I ordered the combination soup, which featured all seven meat choices, including meat balls, flank steak and tripe. Pho costs $6.95 (small), $7.95 (medium) and $8.95 (large) and comes with the usual side ingredients of bean sprouts, basil and jalapenos. Hot and hoisin sauces are available at each table.

The pho broth is richer and darker than those I’ve enjoyed at other pho places. The Pho Factory also is generous with its rice noodles. So much so, that I didn’t finish mine and went home with leftovers.

My wife ordered one of the grilled noodle bowls ($7.95), opting for a marinated, grilled pork as her meat choice. Served in a giant bowl -- my wife couldn’t believe how big it was -- the meal featured the pork atop rice noodles, lettuce, herbs, bean sprouts, cucumbers, pickled carrots and roasted peanuts and was served with a side of house lime chili fish sauce. She, too, took home much of her meal.

We started our meal with spring rolls ($3.95). They were as good as I’ve had at other Vietnamese restaurants. Shrimp, pork, cilantro, scallions and rice noodles were rolled in thin rice paper and served with a soya bean peanut sauce.

We’re anxious to return to try one of the specialty dishes or the clay pots. Grade: A

Atmosphere

North 27th Street has a rough-and-tumble feel to it, and that’s why the Pho Factory seems so out of place here.

The restaurant is something you would find downtown or in new developments in south or east Lincoln, where the city is expanding.

Northsiders, of whom I am one, aren’t complaining. The restaurant is a welcome addition.

Khanh said she and her mother designed the interior, which is filled with gorgeous black-and-brown granite tables. Also quite striking is the tile accenting a far wall with booth seating.

The bar is near the entrance, handling dining room overflow or giving a place for diners to sit and stand while waiting for tables.

The one knock against the Pho Factory is noise. With tile floors, high ceilings and a large open dining room, it can get loud when it’s filled with people. Grade: B+

Service

Khanh said this is one area she plans to emphasize.

“Many of the Asian restaurants I’ve eaten at don’t care much about service,” she said. “I want this to be my focus.”

She claims Pho Factory’s service is a work in progress, but it seems to be progressing well. On our visit, our spring rolls arrived shortly after ordering, and our main entrees reached the table just as we were finishing the appetizers.

Our server was quite knowledgeable of the menu. He offered recommendations to my wife, told us the spring rolls were one of his favorites and asked if I really wanted a large bowl of pho. He was right. I didn’t. The medium he talked me into was more than enough. Grade: A

Vegetarian friendly

The Pho Factory has a tofu pho prepared with a vegetable-based broth. Other vegetarian dishes include a tofu curry soup, ong choy (water spinach) and sugar snap pea leaves stir-fries and tofu spring rolls. The selection isn’t immense, but the quality is. Grade: B-

Reach Jeff Korbelik at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSjeffkorbelik.

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