Wow! The sun is really going down at 1:30 pm these days! I mean, it's technically 4:30 pm, BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. I have a colleague who, instead of saying "bye" at parting, recently switched over to "stay warm, stay dry" in the tone of a wise, good-natured news host. It's a good reminder.
Portlanders, I hope you're being good to yourselves—like carrying an extra pair of socks in your bag and sipping on warm, comforting things. This week's Takeout Club is about two terrific pho spots that recently restored my humanity with their baller hot broths. I wish the same or better for you. Stay warm, stay dry, eat pho!
Hidden pho gem Butterfly Belly possesses an eccentric charm one finds at many family-owned neighborhood cafes. Their a-frame sandwich sign changes frequently, and on a recent afternoon, a chalk drawing of a "Y U NO” Guy caught my eye. His clenched fists demanded those passing by stop for some hot pho.
The Northwest Park blocks seem like an excellent restaurant location, but there just aren't a lot of other businesses with storefronts in the immediate area and the stretch instead comes off feeling empty—even during pre-coronavirus days. But Butterfly Belly cheerfully occupies their cute little Pearl District hole-in-the-wall with pride.
Though they're most proud of their bone broth beef pho—their bone broth is cooked for 48-hours to get all that delicious flavor—Butterfly Belly is also an underground hit with gluten-free eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. Someone is probably going to be pissed that I'm blowing up their favorite spot, but things are hard for restaurants right now, so let's get all the favs out in the open!
Butterfly advertises a dedicated gluten-free menu, and their menu is vast—everything from sweet potato fries to Vietnamese fusion tofu tacos! If you're a meat eater, I heartily recommend their OMG Pho, which comes with delicious cuts of brisket and steak. The broth is everything they promised and more. But their Garden Pho, with its shiitake mushroom broth, is also a major crowd pleaser and they pack the bowl with plenty of veggies.
I'm not sure that pho to-go will ever replace the wonder of receiving that big bowl of goodies in-house, but the way most places package pho ingredients separately feels almost birthday-adjacent. You get so many presents! All the soup ingredients are fun to assemble and the separate packaging makes them easy to reheat, because the noodles and vegetables can go in a bowl while you heat up the broth. Simply pouring hot broth over the contents will generally warm everything back up to the perfect temperature. Give your bowl a minute to absorb the heat and your noodles a swish to break them apart. Then it's time for pho!
Butterfly Belly, 323 NW Park, (503) 788-7327, butterflybellyme.com
On a recent post-election morning I emerged from bed, a shuffling incoherent monster. And the only reason I could do that much was because I needed to go downstairs and tip the delivery person. Ordering delivery is one of my weird secrets for getting up when I absolutely cannot. I just can't leave a delivery driver out in the cold.
Though I selected a nearby pho place at random, what I received truly blew me away in terms of freshness and flavor. Inner Southeast's XinhXinh Vietnamese Bistro is outstanding!
XinhXinh's Beef Pho forced me back into a wholly human state. My main rave is their broth, which bursts with wonderful aromatic spices. There's more cinnamon and star anise than in other pho I've tasted, but XinhXinh really makes it work—it's not overpowering, just lovely and unique. Their vegetables game is likewise strong (although I did order extra veggies), with mushrooms, broccoli, and bok choy all making it into my bowl.
Nestled in a strip-mall of easily-overlooked businesses on SE Madison, across from the Hawthorne Asylum food carts, I probably wouldn't have picked XinhXinh out from the uniform signage of its Matterhorn Building neighbors. XinhXinh closed up—even for takeout—during the November "pause" on restaurant dining, which also put a pause on my ability to rave about them in this column, but I'm happy to report they're recently back open. And I've already been back to grab a bubble tea and some of their likewise excellent Huế Spicy Beef Soup to go.
XinhXinh, 970 SE Madison, (971) 229-1492, xinhxinhbistro.com