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Pho Sai Gon – Vietnamese Cuisine in Lee, MA

September 13, 2009

It may not come as a shock to any of our close friends, but Elysabeth and I have quite the affinity for Vietnamese food, or more specifically, Phở. For those who are (sadly) not informed, Phở is a traditional Vietnamese soup, featuring an incredibly rich broth, noodles, onions, cilantro and is generally accompanied by garnishes, such as basil, bean sprouts, lime, chiles and various sauces. We started to go out for Vietnamese food several years ago, and it has turned into one of our favorite things to eat, anytime, anywhere.

We first ate at this restaurant in February of 2008, on the tail end of our yearly Valentine’s Day weekend, which we spent that year in the Berkshires. After an icy and cozy winter weekend in old New England towns, we spotted this tiny restaurant in the town of Lee just before heading home. Non-flashy and unassuming, the eatery is staffed by an amusing and chatty host and hostess, and just so happens to serve the best Vietnamese food we’ve ever had. And we’ve had plenty. So it goes without saying that when we needed a little break from town last weekend, we couldn’t think of anything better to do than to drive 4 hours (2 there, 2 back) for a bowl of soup.

We arrived precisely at 11:30 am, when the restaurant opens on Saturday mornings. We called the day before to make sure they weren’t on vacation or something — Can you imagine how stupid we would have felt if they were closed? When we arrived, we found a locked door, and then heard in the distance, “Sorry! We’re a little late!” and stood back as the owners showed up with their son and unlocked the restaurant. They asked us to wait a few minutes, and they busily went inside to prepare for the day. After a few exchanges with some passers-by, we sat down at our table, coincidentally the same table we’ve always sat at, all 3 times we’ve been there.

“You’ve been here before, right?”, the hostess asked me after we were seated. I mentioned that we had been a couple of times, and came from the Boston metro area to eat and enjoy the area for the day. The host also mentioned that he remembered us when it was time to order. To drink, we both had a very refreshing and slightly sweet sparkling limeade, and waited for our courses to arrive.

Our starter was Goi Du Du, the Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad, which is very similar to a Thai Som Tam Salad, made with shredded green papaya, carrots, red bell peppers, cilantro, scallions, chiles, crushed peanuts or cashews, and pork or shrimp (we chose sliced pork) and is dressed with a slightly sweet dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and garlic. We found the version at Pho Sai Gon to be extremely fresh (and gigantic – more than enough for 2) with discernible flavors and freshly cut vegetables. As we finished the salad, the garnishes and our large bowls of soup arrived. We could hardly contain our excitement.

We both ordered the Phở gà, or noodle soup with chicken. This restaurant also adds a few pieces of shrimp to their version. We have tasted many a bowl of Phở gà at several places all over the Boston area. The qualities of the soups (richness of the broth, texture of the meat, quality and quantity of the garnishes) at these places range from good to downright bland, and I can say without question that this restaurant has the best version we’ve ever had. The broth is VERY flavorful, the meat is plentiful and tender, and the lime, chiles, and basil served alongside are the perfect additions to a near-perfect broth. At most restaurants, I generally add a considerable amount of both Hoisin and Sriracha sauces just to bring the flavor to an acceptable level of sweetness and spiciness. The other day I added neither, and just enjoyed the deep, complex broth for what it was.

Between the service, the warm environment, and the downright impeccable food, I can do nothing else but recommend Pho Sai Gon for all lovers of Vietnamese food or food in general. It is definitely worth the drive, so no matter where you live, go enjoy this friendly and enjoyable establishment!

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