Pho Orchid Restaurant
3117 Houma Blvd
Metairie, LA 70006
Napoleon's Rating - **/*****
It used to be that seeking out authentic Vietnamese meals meant traveling to the West Bank or the far reaches of eastern New Orleans. But as the popularity of this fresh-tasting, diverse, easy-to-love cuisine spreads, more outlets have opened to serve the devotees and tempt the newcomers. Pho Orchid opened in 2009 in Metairie, and while there are a few other Vietnamese restaurants nearby none has such a wide-ranging menu.
Pho Orchid is tucked away a block off Veterans Boulevard, not far from the Clearview Mall. It's tough to spot unless you're looking for it, but once you arrive it reveals itself to be one of the largest and most spiffy Vietnamese restaurants in the area. The dining room has a modern edge with lots of spotlighting, textured surfaces and sleek tables, yet somehow it doesn't come across as overtly hip.
The staff is friendly and welcoming, but if you're not well versed with Vietnamese cooking and the standard dishes you will not find very much guidance from the servers here.
Some sort of spring roll is the go-to first course at Vietnamese restaurants and Pho Orchid accommodates the craving with a larger-than-normal selection. The standard goi cuon, with rice noodles, shrimp and pork stuffed into fresh rice paper wrappers, are good enough, though I prefer the versions with hot grilled pork. The fried egg rolls are good too, with dense, spicy pork fillings.
Soups are often the main course at Vietnamese restaurants, and Pho Orchid is reasonably good in this department. Much better though, are the grilled meat dishes, prepared on your table on portable, flattop grills that the waitresses haul out from the kitchen when ordered. You (or the waitress) then cook thin slices of raw beef -- or chicken or seafood -- on the crackling hot metal grill, then make little rolls from rice paper wrappers, lettuce and a host of fresh and pickled condiments. It's a fun way for a party to eat together and gives a nice, steady pace to the meal.
The menu is lengthy and covers the many different combinations of noodles, grilled meats and fresh vegetables for which Vietnamese cooking is known. Try the banh hoi, the pressed noodle patties, cut into small squares, which you wrap around grilled meat or shrimp and dress with sour fish sauce. Another good starting point is the banh xeo, which are crepes filled with chunks of pork, shrimp, sprouts and onions. Banh mi, the so-called Vietnamese po-boys, are disappointing here. They're under-stuffed and the bread, so vital to the usual delight of these sandwiches, tastes past its prime.
The soups at Pho Orchid get the job done but aren't my favorite in town. The pho, the classic beef broth noodle soup, is solid but lacks the extra flicker that sets the best broths apart. A better choice is the bun bo Hue, another beef soup with a more hearty, spicy broth and thicker noodles.
As with so many other Asian restaurants, dessert isn't really a big thing here. There are a few tapioca or gelatin cups with sweetened beans available.
There is a full bar, and the usual array of Vietnamese soft drinks, including the strong coffee sweetened with condensed milk.
Like most other Vietnamese restaurants, Pho Orchid is a bargain. Most entrées are priced below $10 and appetizers are below $5.
Pho Orchid is a solid option and good addition to the Metairie dining scene, even if it doesn't quite sparkle. If you already have your favorite Vietnamese restaurant, this place isn't likely to replace it. But it's nice to have another alternative in this part of town, and by making such an extensive menu available it is sure to introduce more people to the joys of this cuisine.