Our favorite noodle shop, Pho Hoa (3030 Superior Avenue, 216-781-7462), inside Chinatown's Golden Plaza, recently underwent a mini-makeover. Earlier this spring, owner Manh Nguyen replaced the little restaurant's sterile fluorescent lighting with trendy halogen pendent lamps and substituted a wall of glass, with a view of the plaza's colorfully painted interior, for the previous industrial-style metal door. The resulting vibe -- warm, intimate, and suitably exotic -- now is a much better match for the tasty fare and friendly service.
Nguyen's menu -- originally limited to bowls of fragrant, intensely flavored pho, or Vietnamese rice-noodle soup -- continues to evolve, too. Now, besides the dozen varieties of pho, diners will find an assortment of Vietnamese vermicelli-noodle and broken-rice dishes, as well as spring rolls, cabbage salad, and a wonderful Vietnamese sandwich of homemade paté and roasted pork on a crunchy French roll.
Still, it's the pho that makes us get all steamy inside, with its complex blend of sweet and savory broth, plump noodles, and tender beef. Hot sauce, fish sauce, and thick soy paste, as well as an array of add-ons -- fresh lime, Asian basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, hot peppers, and the like -- allow diners to garnish each bowl (small, $5.50, or large, $6.50) to taste, turning the soup into an interactive culinary adventure that far exceeds anything that Campbell's has to offer.
Since the demise of next door's quirky Turbo Four (one part rec room, one part auto-parts store, and one part bubble-tea bar), Nguyen has also added bubble tea to the menu. And of course, there's still café sua -- robust Vietnamese coffee, drip-brewed and mixed with sweet condensed milk and ice.
Pho Hoa's hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Bound for the Big Apple . . . Executive chef Marlin Kaplan headed to N.Y.C.'s James Beard House earlier this week in preparation for his second stint as host/chef of a Beard House Dinner; the prestigious culinary showcase will take place this Thursday, June 17. Kaplan, chef/owner of downtown's nationally known One Walnut (1801 East 9th Street), will be preparing a seven-course feast of classic American cuisine, beginning with "small bites," such as watermelon gazpacho and soft-shell crab salad, moving on to such entrées as roasted Maine lobster with fava beans, sprouts, and saffron-vanilla butter, and wrapping up with an assortment of artisanal farmhouse cheeses. Those of us unable to attend the N.Y. shindig need not weep into our white-asparagus risotto, though: Kaplan plans to re-create the dinner at One Walnut later this summer. For more info, call 216-575-1111.