When we first heard about a new Hanoi-style pho restaurant, we thought: “big deal.” After all, we’ve had northern-style pho before, and usually we haven’t been as impressed (see Hanoi Pho or Lam Hoa Quan) with the ingredients or the execution (maybe it’s the Communism). But then when we heard that this new place was serving up a hearty selection of Hanoi-style sticky rice, Banh Mi, as well as pho, all of which were made from scratch by a husband and wife combo, we thought, “wow, this sounds like a big deal!” So off we went to check out the aptly-named Mr. Red Café.
Located on East Hastings Street one block west of Nanaimo, the exterior has the stereotypical window writing advertising the food offerings and the restaurant name on top – all in bright red of course. The interior is arranged café-style, which one member described as “semi-modern,” with tables arranged in a horseshoe shape around a protruding island, with (you guessed it) red accents throughout. With a plePHOra of (real) green plants and (fake) red flowers around, it gave it a very live jungle-y feeling.
Service was quite prompt and friendly when we first arrived around 11:30AM, giving us menus and Pandan Jasmine Tea (although we could really only taste the barley-esque notes) as soon as we arrived, but as the restaurant filled up, service slowed to a crawl, to the point where our group was quite hungry before we started getting our orders – and even then, only half of our table was served their PHOod while the rest waited about 10 mins before their orders arrived.
Despite the wait, we were pleasantly impressed with the quality of the pho. While the broth wasn’t quite as piping hot as we would prefer, it was nevertheless tasty with a strong beefy flavor, with lots of depth and a spice/herbal mixture that gave it an extra mysterious quality. The Bun Bo Hue broth also had a very light red color (surprising) compared to other Bun Bo Hues, but the flavor (and spice level) was just right, allowing the broth’s beefiness to come through without being overpowered.
While there was a good variety of meats in both the Pho Bo Dac Biet and the Bun Bo Hue, there were very few of each, and beef tendons were strangely missing from the ingredient list. The portion size of the noodles was also smaller than average, which was unfortunate as they were just the right amount of done-ness without being overly soft.
While the presentation of pho isn’t typically well-done in most pho joints, you could tell that there was some effort here in arranging the meat so that it was more than the usual haphazard pile of meats. Even the sides came in a neat basket with giant soup spoons. But, as it seems to be a theme, the variety and portion sizes provided of the sides was also on the smaller side, especially seeing as how it was meant for three orders.
While they did have higher than average prices, and smaller than average portions, the quality of the pho did stand out and it was clear that they took great care in their preparation. If only they could improve the speed of their service, it would be, ahem, RED-iculously good.
Here’s our review of the pho!
One Size: $8-$11.50
Beef: Good variety, but few pieces of each.
Noodles: al dente, with thicker noodles in the Bun Bo Hue
Broth: Strong beefy flavor
Presentation: 3 out of 4
Overall: 7.5 out of 10