This review was originally published in the September 3, 2014 issue of What’s Up Weekly.
Pho Tre Bien basically pioneered Vietnamese cuisine in El Paso, so it was only a matter of time before the El Paso staple expanded. Instead of opening another full service location, owners decided to open a stripped down express version in the northeast near highway 54. The tiny, divey location embodies everything a pho joint should be – generous portions, good prices and fresh and flavorful comfort food.
It’s almost a requirement to order spring rolls here, which come in pairs wrapped in rice paper and stuffed with rice vermicelli noodles, vegetables and your choice of grilled beef, chicken, shrimp, pork or tofu and a side of creamy peanut dipping sauce. Other appetizers include fried eggrolls, lumpia rolls and fried chicken wings marinated in Asian spices. Another requirement is ordering a large steamy bowl of pho. Fragrant beef broth is served over rice noodles with the option to garnish with bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, fresh jalapenos and lime. Pho options include rare steak, brisket, meatballs, chicken, shrimp, veggies and tofu or a combination of meats. If you’re indecisive, brisket is the most popular pho here.
This is also one of the only places in El Paso where you’ll find banh mi, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich served on a crusty baguette that’s slathered with mayonnaise and pate and topped with julienned carrots, jicama, cucumber, jalapenos and cilantro. Sandwiches can be ordered with ham and headcheese, grilled beef, pork or sautéed lemongrass tofu. If you’re not craving soup or sandwiches, plenty of rice noodle and steamed rice dishes are available, including charbroiled meats and curry chicken.
No Vietnamese restaurant would be complete without boba tea, the milky tea served with tapioca pearls that comes in various fruit flavors. If you visit during lunchtime, you may want call in your order or take it to go; seating is limited and the kitchen gets backed up.
Additional Veg Snob Notes: Order the tofu sandwich, pictured above. The lemongrass tofu has a perfect texture; a bit on the salty side on my visit, but still oh so good. Ask for it without mayo to make it vegan. They have a vegetarian section on their menu that includes the lemongrass tofu on noodles or rice. They’ve since added a third location in the UTEP area called Pho Tre Bien Bistro at 3737 N. Mesa, but I have yet to try it.
10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Children’s menu available