Some foods are for moods. I love cheese, for example, but only crave fondue on rare occasions when I’m neither particularly hungry nor full and the thing I’m after is more the conversation oozing out over and around the pot rather than the fromage inside it.
Gumbo—same. Love gumbo. But it has to feel celebratory in some way, because that just goes with gumbo. You need a spoon and you need celebration. Whether you put rice or eggy potato salad in there doesn’t really matter—that’s up to you.
And then there’s pho. Pho is somehow completely independent of moods and prerequisites. If I’m feeling good, I want pho. If I’m feeling sick, I want pho. Starving? Pho, of course—big gulps of broth and chewy noodles and I’m myself again. And when I feel like eating something light and not too filling? Pho. It’s magical how the same broth can be both intensely satisfying and light and delicate at the same time.
I was a Pho Tau Bay junkie before Katrina. When they opened their Westbank location back up after the storm, that moment was the one for me that spelled, “Everything might just be okay, after all.”
I still crave Pho Tau Bay’s Bun Bo Hue—that’s the fishy broth with the fat, round noodles and slightly bizarre, tendon-like meat. But it’s near impossible to park for free or cheap around Tulane Avenue (their last remaining location) these days, and when Pho Cam Ly opened on Magazine Street between Louisiana and Napoleon Avenue in 2014, I started sneaking in there like a cheater.
Thankfully, I’ve sucked down enough salty goodness over the last four years to wash away even the slightest memory of guilt.
One of my favorite things about Pho Cam Ly is how clean and simple their standard pho combo is. No frills. I do wish they’d include tripe (I go to Pho Bang just for that), but I can live without it. Instead, I get that magical addition called “extra veg.” A few crispy broccoli florets and sweet-tender slices of carrot are just enough to make me feel like I ate all my vegetables, because I do.
Pho Cam Ly offers a variety of fresh spring rolls, and they’re all good. I’ll even eat the tofu. Most of the time, I ask the waitress to just pick whatever type of roll she likes.
When it comes to the rest of the menu, I’m sure it’s alright. This is a wonky restaurant review because I know nothing of the food beyond the soup and the rolls. How can a person go to a restaurant literally a hundred times and always order the same thing?
I’m not really asking, of course. Just bring me the soup.