The traffic congestion of these D.C. suburbs often makes me want to head for the hills. (And sometimes I do.) The cost of living is certainly no perk either. But once in a while I'll get a hold of the Washingtonian magazine's "Cheap Eats" list and remember what's fun about living here. Northern Virginia is laced with so many different ethnic communities. After four years, I feel like I'm just getting started sampling the beltway's abundant and worldly food supply.
Hot pho (pho = a kind of broth based Vietnamese soup) is probably my favorite food discovery of the year . . . or of all time. My favorite is from Vinh Loi's restaurant in Falls Church. I don't even remember what first brought me into this bare-bones place in a strip-mall. It's an extremely humble soup shop and everything on the menu is eight bucks or less. The only pho I have ever eaten off their menu is #21 (pho bo ko or "spicy beef stew") and it is so good I have not been tempted to try anything else. I can't even begin to describe the flavor of the broth delivered in a basin-sized bowl. It's very aromatic with hints of cinnamon. The big chunks of meat are soft and tender, and it's served with a generous amount of noodles, sliced chili peppers, cilantro, lime wedges, and fresh basil leaves.
Some mornings I wake up thinking about #21 and watch the clock Vinh Loi's opens. When I'm not feeling well, I pick up #21 to go--they have it ready in about 5 minutes. Definitely clears the sinuses. (Heck, when I'm feeling great I'll still take #21 to go) Most of the staff recognizes me ("Weren't you just here yesterday?") and I've been told "White people never order that--too spicy." Not for me! Love this stuff.