Saigon Pho

We had a yen for Vietnamese food the other day, and since there aren’t that many Vietnamese restaurants near us we went to one that we knew: Saigon Pho.

Finally, the Asian noodle craze has touched down in Dutchess. Newcomer Saigon Pho is making a splash, bringing Vietnamese cuisine to our doorstep in a spacious, contemporary setting decorated with textural grasses and woven Asian accessories.

Not to be confused with its predecessor, Pho Max, Saigon Pho is in the same unglamorous strip mall location on Route 9. This 52-seat spot is likely here to stay, drawing a steady and enthusiastic lunch and dinner crowd with flavorful fare at smile-inducing prices. This is food that is meant for sharing, so be prepared to order a variety of dishes to split. If you need guidance navigating the waters of Vietnamese food, the soft-spoken waiters are happy to suggest a balanced range of dishes. Most people start with the rice-paper-wrapped spring rolls, great for snacking while perusing the menu. Choose from grilled pork or shrimp ($8.50 for three large pieces that are cut in half, so even six people could have a taste). For the complete experience, wash them down with some green or coconut bubble tea ($3.75, so named for the tapioca “bubbles”), served with an extra wide straw.

Of course, a visit practically demands an order of pho (noodle soup). A staple dish of Vietnam, it comes in a large bowl loaded with vermicelli noodles swimming in a slightly sweet, intricately spiced, aromatic broth hinting of star anise, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander. There are several specialty phos here: shrimp, chicken, tiny meatballs, and even brisket (below) are possibilities (prices range from $8.99 to $10.50). Request more bowls, so everyone can customize their pho choosing from the generous garnish side plate of bean sprouts, fragrant Thai basil, sliced jalapenos, and lime wedges. Shake in some sweet ’n’ spicy hoisin sauce or hot chili, and you’ll be all set. To cool the spice a bit, order a vegetable fried rice ($8.25), addictively tasty with carrots, broccoli, and crisp bits of tofu.

If you’re there for lunch, be sure to try the classic Vietnamese sandwich Banh Mi Thit Nuong ($4.50) — that is, grilled pork served with pickled cucumbers and mayonnaise. It just might replace your favorite deli food. 845-765-2100 (Hudson Valley)

Apart from the brightly colored lanterns it’s not much to look at, but the staff are friendly and helpful and the food (at least what we had) was great.

Taken with a Panasonic Lumix GF1 and G vario 14-42 asph f3.5-5.6.