Pho. Quite possibly the food with the strongest pun game, which restaurateurs across the nation have been embracing with increasing intensity.
What the Pho?
And of course, Pho King.
The options are endless.
I-Drive’s new Twenty Pho Hour not only puns it up, but delivers on the name, staying open round the clock through the weekends (11 am on Thursday through 9 pm Sunday), but more importantly, they are serving some seriously good soup.
I wanted to say that up front, because Twenty Pho Hour is the sort of place where chat about the food could be forfeited for discussion on design. Its I-Drive location lends itself to whimsical offerings and theirs – inspired by Tokyo’s 2D Café, where stark black-and-white lines flatten out the landscape – fits right into our fair city’s theme-parkian sensibility.
It’s figurative, of course, but the design gives guests the wild, Roger Rabbit-esque experience of stepping right into a cartoon. Clever illustration techniques create dimension where none exists and vice versa – but there is plenty of dimension in the super-sized bowls they’re slinging.
There wasn’t a loser in the bunch of our picks, but my hands-down favorite was the “Black Ox,” pho bowl ($ 16), featuring eye round steak and brisket with a hefty crown of soft, slow-roasted oxtail. Meaty ingredients, beautifully done, but oh, that broth – deep in color, redolent of warm pho spices, clove, star anise…. (It’s lunch time, and I think I just crossed the line from hungry to hangry.) Try it.
Ahead of the soup, the spicy pork dumplings ($ 6) were purses worthy of scarfing, and as artfully presented as one might expect from a place so focused on appearance – but didn’t bring much heat. Tasty, though.
Squid on a stick ($ 5) made for whimsical fare, two skewers of petite and tender fresh-fried squid with a pretty kicking jalapeño aioli alongside. Now, we were getting somewhere.
“Are you sure?” the chap up front asked when we added Korean fire noodles to our order. He seemed concerned, just shy of alarmed. “It’s five out of five spicy. No refunds. ” (The menu notes this policy, as well.) My daughter and I stared at one another, then back at him.
“Yeah, we’ll go for it,” I said.
“Just water to drink?” We nodded.
“You’re gonna need it.”
Now, I was intrigued.
Thick ropes of udon beckoned, devilish in red-orange, tender chicken – a mix of white and dark – with scallions and sweet kernels of corn studded throughout. It comes with an egg, too. We went for hardboiled though I immediately regretted missing the poached option. Runny yolk would have been superb over bouncy noods with sensational sizzle.
It’s a dish that definitely delivers, but for genuine and frequent lovers of heat, it’s entirely doable. We took home half because we were full, not fire-scorched. That said, if you’re even a little spice sensitive, heed the warning. There’s loads here to enjoy that won’t wreck you, including other noodle options.
(A note: Noodle bowls are $ 13 with a small upcharge that depends on your protein choice.)
We were up for dessert, and the homemade Japanese cheesecake beckoned ($ 6) but alas – they were out.
In this gig – I’m closing in on three years now – I have enjoyed visits to restaurants all over the metro, places I’d frequent if I lived closer. I don’t live very close to I-Drive but ask me if I’d return to try it (it’d be worth the trip to try more savory items if I could keep from ordering that oxtail again), my answer would come fast and furious:
If you go: 11951 International Drive in Orlando, 407-778-1201; twenty-pho-hour.com
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