Pho Metro offers something new in Wexford. The thing that initially attracted me to this Vietnamese spot is that it doesn't serve falafel. Around Lawrence and Warden, it's hard to find anything other than low-ball falafel offerings. But for those of us who want diversity, there's a more understated restaurant in the area.
Outside Pho Metro there are no massive 2-for-1 banners, no "8 trillion falafels sold" signs. There is, however, a neon light cow's head. Kind of Laughing Cow, actually. I thought of little cheeses.
Entering the restaurant is a breathe of fresh air. Trendy modern chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and large framed mirrors line the walls. In an area known for its stainless steel counters and peeling wallpaper, it's refreshing to visit a restaurant that isn't stuck in 30 years ago.
Reviewing the menu, I'm immediately confused. There's a page dedicated to vermicelli, the popular Vietnamese rice noodle dish ($7.50 to $9.95) that is served with a myriad of meaty topping options (perhaps you would like it with sugar cane wrapped in shrimp?). There's also a page of "Steamed Vermicelli" options ($9.50 to $13.50), which seems to be exactly the same thing.
The Steamed Vermicelli dish at Pho Metro is a sort of Vietnamese fajita dish. Ask your server for a crash course on how to eat this dish. The house special comes with grilled pork, grilled beef, grilled chicken, grilled pork sausage, shrimp on sugar cane, and all the fixin's.
Take the steamed rice paper, and place upon it one of the ultra-thin sheets of vermicelli. You have to use your hands. Even the Queen eats steamed vermicelli wraps with her hands. Now add some of the meat, mint leaves, some julienned cucumber and carrot, and roll that Vietnamese burrito. The rice paper is strong and sticky, and will make you feel like a pro roller. Dip it is some peanut sauce and bam. Flavour country.
The thing that really makes this dish is that Pho Metro puts their paper-thin raw meat direct to grill. It is a laborious process that must result in lots of bits sacrificed to the grill gods, but it truly sets them apart from their half-baked flash-fried opponents. The result is a deliciously delicate piece of meat, ensconced in those lovely Maillard-y bits ("caramelized" for those of you not into food chemistry). You can add more meat to any dish for $3 extra.
Now this is a pho restaurant, so I sampled the pho. It's served quickly with a proper amount of meat, lime, basil, and sprouts. While it's hard to compare bowls of pho with each other, it's at par with lots of pho I've had downtown and noteworthy in an area where 2-for-1 food is the norm. The bowl is huge, the price is low ($5.95 for a small bowl/meal, to $7.95 for a ridiculous amount of pho), and I find it deeply satisfying.
One of my standard restaurant measuring sticks is the pad thai. Maybe it's the nostalgia of ordering pad thai served with toast at the Green Room . No matter. Though not really Vietnamese food, the pad thai at Pho Metro is done amicably. For $7.95, I was served enough pad thai for two meals. And the burn-your-face-off hot sauce was already on the table, waiting for me to do something stupid. I did not disappoint. The noodles were just right, not overdone. The sauce is tangy and not cloyingly sweet. Fresh slices of lime seal the deal.
I chased my meal down with my first-ever avocado smoothie, which tasted just a little sweet but otherwise very much like an avocado. If you are into paleo , this is a restaurant where you can ingest a whole avocado in one beverage. Also recommended for fashionable dieters: order the pho with no noodles and extra sides of grilled pork ($3) and grilled beef ($3). And then undo all your hard work with a bubble tea (is tapioca paleo?).
Overall, I really liked by meal at Pho Metro. The back wall is a bit shy on the decor meter, so be sure to sit facing the window or opposite someone attractive. It's kid friendly. The bathrooms are well lit and spacious. And it's not falafel.
Writing by Michael Diez de Aux. Photos by Rita Alexopoulos/Chroma Photography