Bite of the Week is a weekly feature showcasing an exceptional meal or dish, curated by The Growler.
It’s highly likely that Maplewood’s Pho Lodge is the only restaurant in Minnesota that features housemade bowls of pho and taxidermied squirrels on the walls. In fact, it’s entirely possible that Pho Lodge is the only restaurant worldwide that features housemade bowls of pho and taxidermied squirrels on the walls—the restaurant’s Northwoods hunting trophies meets Southeast Asian comfort food theme isn’t exactly a dime a dozen.
But all the gutted, stuffed, and mounted wildlife in the world can’t save a restaurant that won’t deliver on its core food promise. Happily, Pho Lodge does. Its Small Bowl of Pho ($10) features a beef rib bone (with meat, naturally), thin-sliced eye round steak, and sliced meatballs, plus the usual complement of noodles, scallions, aromatic mix-ins, and optional side sauces. What it didn’t feature for us (despite being listed on the menu as a standard addition) was a collection of tendons and tripe. We’re tendon fans but have had enough dodgy tripe experiences that their disappearance from the bowl was as much of a feature as it was a bug.
This bowl of pho was classic—streamlined, comforting, and balanced. The meatballs had a surprising amount of spiced funky depth, the tender and rich bits of beef pulled off the bone with a bit of struggle, and the steak slices were mild and tender. The spice profile of the soup (star anise, clove, and cinnamon, among others) was relatively mild—this isn’t an anise face-walloping. And the broth itself was full-flavored and rich without being greasy or overwhelming. Particularly in cold weather, the Pho Lodge offers shelter, sustenance, and a lot of savory, agreeable flavor to boot.
The Dish: Small Bowl of beef Pho, $10
The Place: Pho Lodge, 1935 Beam Ave., Ste. 104, Maplewood, MN
The Reason: A classic, simple, refreshing, and empowering bowl of pho is nothing to sneer at