Pho Jasmine aka Pho Dza Thao

714 N. KIllingsworth 283-0398

It's a fairly common occurrence in a "resurgent" neighborhood--those places you've come to rely on, your places, are often chased away or forced into exile by more affluent, comely establishments. Such may be the case with Pho Jasmine. They've already changed their name (restaurant suicide) in response to the opening of the new and bustling competitor several doors down, Pho Thanh Thao.

As you enter Pho Jasmine, the atmosphere retains a casual feel, and when you begin to interact with the staff you notice the difference between this house of Pho and the others that verily pepper the city. The people are so nice. It may not be apparent immediately, but just ask somebody a question. It's clearly a family affair.

The menu at Pho Jasmine is a mixture of traditional Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese fare. To exact a kind of culinary litmus test on what would have been an otherwise routine visit, I invited my decidedly un-Viet initiated Texan in-laws. We started the meal with an appetizer course of golden deep-fried shrimp and vegetarian salad rolls. The shrimp were delightfully large and crunchy, and lacked the greasiness often found in hurried efforts to speed them to the table. The rolls had a taste imbued with fresh mint. Neither left us wanting for a selection of sauces for dipping.

The Pho was excellent, the broth breathily complex with its mixture of spices. The beef was lean and tender, sliced thinly and in generous portions. A plate of fresh garnishes, offering both basil and cilantro as choices, accompanied it. The spicy lemongrass chicken maintained a smokey, coconutty flavor without convoluting the underlying theme of lemongrass. It was served atop a bed of freshly grilled green peppers, onions, and bamboo shoots.

The other two dishes we ordered were decidedly Chinese in origin, tweaked with the flair of spices and dry grilling used in traditional Vietnamese cooking. The Vegetarian Hotpot had an array of veggies and featured both wheat gluten and tofu. While the gluten cells soaked up the gingery sauce, the tofu maintained a fresh contrast to the spicy deluge. The Happy Family, my personal choice, lured me with promises of fresh seafood. I selfishly made this order with the knowledge that we dropped in at thirty minutes to close, so I had my doubts. I was informed that they were out of scallops and oysters, but that it would be made up for with heartier portions of squid and shrimp. I was not disappointed. The dish was overflowing with squid as tender as any I've had. Everything was accompanied with steamed rice and a jasmine blend of tea. Both were delicate and delightful. Even the Texans approved.

While in a state of flux, with promises of a revamped menu featuring many new vegetarian dishes including salt and pepper tofu (a vegetarian version of the addictive squid dish), Pho Jasmine offers fresh affordable fare. This is Vietnamese the North Portland way, without airs, serving the best food on the block.