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Pho Orchid 

Options abound on Metairie's widest-ranging Vietnamese menu

WHAT

Pho Orchid

WHERE

3117 Houma Blvd., Metairie, 457-4188

WHEN

Lunch and dinner daily

RESERVATIONS

Accepted

HOW MUCH

Inexpensive

WHAT WORKS

Grill-your-own beef dishes, numerous soups and spicy seafood

WHAT DOESN'T

Namesake soup falls short of the billing.

CHECK, PLEASE

Metairie's answer to the big-menu Vietnamese eateries of the West Bank and New Orleans East

click to enlarge cuis_lead-1.jpg

When heading out for Vietnamese food, local diners generally have two options: the ultra-casual noodle shops specializing in pho, and the much larger restaurants with wide-ranging menus of traditional Vietnamese cuisine.

  Seeking out the latter means visiting restaurants in the Vietnamese enclaves of New Orleans East and Gretna. But the new Pho Orchid has expanded the options by serving many of the big-menu staples in Metairie.

  The main event here is a catalog of grill-it-yourself dishes called nuong vi. Order one, and the waiter places before you a gas-fired brazier with a cooking surface about the size of a cafeteria tray, and then fills any remaining table space with plates of raw beef, fresh lettuce, mint, pickled carrots and rice-paper wrappers. It's up to you to cook the meat and make rolls.

  The sizzling-hot meat, the crisp, cool vegetables, the soft wrappers and the addition of sour and hot sauces make great bites of food. At Pho Orchid, you can mix things up further with shrimp and squid on the grill as well as the traditional beef. Nuong vi are the only dishes anywhere close to the $20 mark on this affordable menu, and they are intended to be shared.

  First-time restaurateur Dave Nguyen opened Pho Orchid earlier this year, taking over the spot where Shanghai had a promising but short-lived run serving authentic Chinese food. It's a cavernous suburban space with sleek design elements creeping in at the edges and shiny, lacquered tables illuminated by spotlights.

  But disregard the "nouvelle cuisine" tag on the sign, because the restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese dishes and plenty of them. There's lemongrass chicken and banh hoi, the pressed noodle patties you wrap in lettuce leaves with grilled pork. There's the meaty crepe called banh xeo, and sugar cane skewers spearing wads of minced shrimp paste that is, as always, much better than it sounds. The extensive take-out menu folds open like a road map.

  I like Pho Orchid's grilled pork spring rolls, which add unaccustomed bursts of hot pork grease to the normally clean-tasting rice-noodle roll. The egg rolls stand out as well, thanks to spicy ground pork inside the brittle-crisp wrappers, but skip the torpedo shrimp, an oily package of shrimp in fried rice paper.

  Lately, the specials board has featured banh mi, aka the Vietnamese po-boy, though these were disappointingly short on the usual fresh and crunchy vegetable fillings. A less common but better special is banh cuon, a thick, stretchy pancake made from rice noodles and stuffed with bits of pork and fried onions.

  Pho gets marquee billing in the restaurant name, but I'm not crazy about this rendition. There are bowls of this iconic beef noodle soup with more flavor and depth waiting just a few miles down Veterans Memorial Boulevard at Pho Bang, a utilitarian dining hall that's in the running to become my new favorite pho.

  At Pho Orchid I'm much more fond of the bun bo Hue, a soup buried on the menu among all the vermicelli bowls. Larded with fatty beef slices, it is red, oily, rambunctiously spicy and a dish to remember when the weather gets cold again. A menu as thorough as Pho Orchid's has enough specialties for all seasons.

click to enlarge David Nguyen's Pho Orchid offers pho and a wide array of other - Vietnamese dishes. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
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