There are a ton of Vietnamese restaurants in Atlanta serving up various incarnations of their traditional beef noodle bowls called Pho; Buford Highway is home to at least a dozen or so on its own. So how does one decide amongst so many choices…I would suggest trying several, because several are solid (Pho 96, Pho Bac) and everyone has an opinion, but if you don’t have time and/or just want the best than just go to Pho Dai Loi 2 and forget the rest!
For those new to Pho it’s basically a soup with noodles, basil, cilantro, chili, bean sprouts and Sawgrass. At Pho Dai Loi you can get it with your choice of meat (flank, round eye, tripe etc.) and it’s served with limes, sprouts and additional basil on the side; they also have an assortment of chili oils, pastes and flakes if you want to kick it up a notch. The flank and round eye combo is probably the most popular and the safest for non-adventurous types. Warning, this stuff is addictive; the combination of the spices with the fragrance of the herbs and the silkiness of the broth is pure magic that will leave you wanting more and the ill-advised bravado to try and finish the mammoth bowl.
If you want to get crazy they have a few tripe options (none for me please) and even a Bun Bo Hue which is a really spicy version with liver, kidney, tripe and other assorted goodies. I had one bite and that was enough for me; the broth itself was very thick and almost blood like with a heavy gamey taste that was somewhat offset by the herbs and the spiciness of the dish. I’m not saying this was bad, as some people really like this stuff, it just wasn’t for me.
Apart from the noodle bowl selections, they offer meat and chicken plates as well as a small selection of appetizers, including fresh spring rolls with shrimp, egg rolls and what can only be described as a fried shrimp wonton. We sampled each and they were all pretty solid; the spring rolls were light and fresh, the egg rolls were crispy and full of flavor, but the shrimp rolls were my favorite. They were fried well and the shrimp was fresh and seasoned better than the other two dishes, which lacked a wow factor.
The one main plate selection we tried was the coconut chicken that was served with rice and a little fresh vegetable medley. It was sweet and spicy at the same time, but not too hot; like a lot of their dishes, this one too had really intense flavors and was well seasoned.
To wrap up a perfect meal at Pho Dai Lao, you should try a Vietnamese coffee or one of the fruit/tapioca laced bubble teas which are really refreshing and work well as a palate cleanser. If you want really good coffee and a pick me up comparable to a really, really strong espresso, go with the coffee and you won’t be disappointed!
Pho Dai Loi 2 is great place for those interested in exploring Vietnamese cooking for the first time and for Pho experts alike. It’s large, clean and the service is attentive and knowledgeable.