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Voyages: I Love Pho

Voyages: I Love Pho

Let’s face facts – most people do not often think of the Bedford highway as a culinary hotspot. While on the surface it does not appear that way, we feel it is our duty at The Starving Sailor to bring to your attention the remarkable assortment of hidden gems this city and all its neighbourhoods have to offer. So let’s be frank – there is a lot more on this stretch of Oceanside highway than first meets the eye.

One of the least known and most incredible spots we have discovered thus far is I Love Pho Vietnamese Restaurant. Located a stone’s throw away from the basin about 10 minutes south of Bedford proper, owner and gastronomic goddess Thu Tran is cranking out some of the most authentic and soulful Vietnamese food we have seen on this side of the Pacific.

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After immigrating to Canada in 1979, Tran dabbled in various restaurant businesses including the award-winning New Fortune Chinese Restaurant before opening up I Love Pho in 2014. Coming from a food business family that owned and operated several fishing boats, Tran’s grandmother ensured that from an early age she had the skills and repertoire to dazzle anyone in the kitchen. While growing up cooking doesn’t necessarily mean you have the finesse to run a successful restaurant, Tran’s approach to cuisine is centred on the idea that you cook with your heart. Her favourite part about being in this business is that every single day, she gets to make people happy.

Upon entering the restaurant, the first thing I notice is how impeccably clean it is. The room is decorated simply, there is relaxing music playing over the sound system, and the sweet scent of fresh flowers fills my nose from the vases decorating each table. As Tran comes out from the kitchen to greet me, I am instantly won over by her kind nature and hospitality. Having had my fair share of Vietnamese food in my life, I can tell that this is going to be an authentic experience from the second I pick up the menu.

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To start things off light, I begin with an order of BBQ pork Gỏi cuốn, otherwise known as summer rolls, spring rolls, fresh rolls, rice wraps or whatever you want to call them ($2.95). The filling of lettuce, vermicelli, cucumber, mint, and bean sprout is super fresh and crunchy, and the peanut sauce it comes with packs a nice punch of sweet and salty flavour to get your taste buds watering. To keep things interesting, patrons have their choice of beef, BBQ pork, grilled Vietnamese sausage, shrimp, or tofu depending on what they are feeling.

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Following this delicious appetizer, Tran hits me with something I have never tried before – Bún bò Huế ($11.95). As the fierier cousin of the namesake Pho, this dish consists of super spicy red broth packed with thick rice noodles, beef, Vietnamese sausage and fresh greens. The broth is extremely complex and instantly brings to mind hints of lemongrass, chilli pepper and a multitude of other herbs and spices. While I thought Pho was the ultimate hangover cure, this soup is guaranteed to help you sweat out any toxins you may have consumed the night before, or in your entire life. This dish is a must.

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Next up comes the iconic special Vietnamese Pho with tender beef, brisket, beef ball, tripe, and tendon ($11.95). While you can customize your bowl to leave out some of the more adventurous parts, it is well worth it to try the full shebang at least once, as this is pretty much as authentic as it gets. In contrast to the Bún bò Huế broth, the Pho is richer and gives off notes of anise seed and cinnamon. For anyone who knows Pho, you will instantly recognize that this is the real deal. Plenty of fresh bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, hoisin sauce, and sriracha come on the side for dipping and garnishing purposes. Another home run.

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After whole-heartedly slurping up the soup, I am now presented with the masterpiece called Bun Vermicelli ($11.95). Aside from being extremely healthy, this rice noodle bowl is exceptionally fresh, vibrant, colourful, and comes topped with two skewers of lemongrass chicken and a crispy spring roll. The hearty servings of cucumber, carrot, daikon radish, bean sprouts, Thai chilli, and Thai basil make this dish a go-to lunch or dinner for anyone passionate about healthy eating – although the boatloads of flavour crammed into this medley would appeal to even the most burger and fries-obsessed person.

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To finish this outstanding meal off with flair, Tran sets me up with a Cà phê sữa – otherwise known as Vietnamese espresso ($2.95). Essentially, a glass laced with sweetened condensed milk is adorned with a single-serve espresso filter that slowly drips super strong chicory-infused coffee into the cup below. Once the coffee is done brewing, you stir up the mixture and pour it over a tall glass of ice. What you are left with is one of the most divine coffee creations ever produced by mankind. The taste of the coffee is potent and smoky, but the condensed milk lends a creamy sweetness that over ice pretty much tastes like heaven in a glass. This is the best coffee you can possibly get your hands on for a hot summer day.

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After eating such an extensive meal, you would think you might feel sluggish, but that is not the case at all. One of the greatest parts about I Love Pho’s food and Vietnamese food in general is that it has fresh ingredients, minimal use of dairy and oil, and a heavy reliance on herbs and vegetables.

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No joke – keep eating this stuff, and you are certain to live a long and healthy life. With summer finally here in Halifax (for a few months), it’s time to get out and explore your city. Find a car, jump on a bus, or hop on your bike today – Bedford’s finest is awaiting your visit.

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