Food & Drink

Flaming Broths and Gelatinous Tendons

Seattle's Pho Club Is as Crazy as People Who Don't Like Pho

Flaming Broths 
and Gelatinous Tendons

All Pho-Tos by Kelly O


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Despite what crazy people will tell you, pho is an all-season affair. In summer, the heat makes you sweat—and what is sweat but Mother Nature's air conditioning that just works backward! Almost every day for me is a day for pho (because I am not at all crazy). The day of my pho-club outing is the first big rain of the season, the first day for raincoats and umbrellas—a day almost everyone can agree (unless they are crazy) is ideal for pho. At lunch, I eat my staple—the pho chay with extra tofu at Ballet ($6.95), which has saved me from many a hunger pang and hangover. The steaming broth and spice arsenal just burn out all the bad stuff! It's also within a two-block radius of our office. Pho chay and a Tsingtao ($3.95) will cure anything the world can throw at you (as long as it's the Western world and not the third world—those guys are fucked).

Because I have apparently become The Stranger's resident pho expert, which required little more than eating it all the fucking time, I've been charged with joining the Pho-Natics (GET IT?), a Seattle club of pho enthusiasts, for a dinner at Pho 99 in White Center. There is no initiation rite required to join the Pho-Natics. When I ask club president Sean Hoops how one becomes a member, he says, "You go to our Facebook page and hit 'Like.'" He says they have about 300 members and that usually about 30 people show up to each meeting, of which they've had 15 so far. At the peak of tonight's attendance, there will be 25 people. The early arrivals wait for almost everyone to get there before they order. (They called ahead to warn the restaurant.)

"It feels sweaty in here," says a girl from another party, sounding strangely delighted. I, for one, am sweating gobs from the amount of sriracha and inflammatory sauces I've added—a mere trace compared to many Pho-Natics, who are happily slurping broth that's turned blood-red from substantial amounts of fiery additives. I've ordered a large pho tai ($7.20, tax included), which comes with the basic in-the-bowl trappings—beef (good but not great), green onions, cilantro, noodles, and onions. (I love onions in almost every context except in pho). On the plate is an exceptionally fresh and crisp set of typical adornments—bean sprouts, cilantro, lime wedges, and jalapeño slices, the last of which one Pho-Natic tells me helps with the tendon: "They just help to give a texture different than the gelatinous tendon." The large is a bad move—just more noodles and broth. Said broth is well-balanced and piping hot.

Afterward, the sweat dripping off my forehead and onto the lenses of my glasses makes me feel like a freak as I interview the group, none of whom seems to exhibit this particular problem. It doesn't help the feeling that Kelly O, who's come to take photos, apparently rolled out of bed and straight down to the office that day—her hair pinned up, looking like a longer, blonder version of Alfalfa's hairstyle from The Little Rascals. She's wearing green steel-shank work boots, thrift-store pants tucked into them, a Green Bay Packers jersey, and eyeglasses that were clearly stolen from Wayne's World's Garth. None of these people really look like weirdos—the core group members all know each other, mostly from working at Harborview—but they don't seem to mind that we do.

Although a few Pho-Natics tonight are newcomers, most attendees are die-hards. Sweatshirts and T-shirts have been made. Tripe and tendon are not avoided, and the answer to my question "How hot is too hot?" is met with responses like "I don't know. I haven't reached that plane yet" or "It's never too hot." Relative newcomer Lisa's thirst for heat is thwarted by a temporary condition: "Right now, I'm pregnant. So I can't do it so hot, because later I pay for it."

Club president Sean tries something involving quail eggs: "It's like a soft-boiled egg. I'd do it again in a second." These people are culinary risk-takers. "You kind of have to be," says Bill. "There are a lot of smaller restaurants, and you don't know what their specialty is going to be or what they're going to put in it, so sometimes it's a gamble." But Neil, Sean's partner, is the Anti-Pho. "I'm not a big soup-eater at all," he says. So at every meeting, Neil orders just a bowl of rice. "Most places' rice is the same, but some places make bad rice. Some of it's too beefy, too meaty."

As we leave, I feel like a coward for not gnawing on some tendons or stomach lining or some such weird shit. Then again, these people are crazy. recommended


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care bear 1
Ở ở

There. You can copy and paste next time.
Posted by care bear on October 12, 2011 at 2:55 PM · Report this
Great now I am HUNGRY for some Pho! Yum yum
Posted by Bry Guy on October 12, 2011 at 3:41 PM · Report this
The Seattle Pho-Natics 3
Grant, Thank you so much for the awesome story on our club!!!!! Its a lot of fun and yeah we are crazy!!!! thats one of the things that makes us fun! :) Sean- The Seattle Pho-Natics President
Posted by The Seattle Pho-Natics on October 12, 2011 at 8:12 PM · Report this
care bear 4
Wait, you get extra tofu at Ballet? It already has so much tofu! That's why Ballet's my fave.
Posted by care bear on October 13, 2011 at 10:28 AM · Report this
Grant Brissey, Emeritus 5
@ Sean: Indeed! Crazy is a compliment in my book.
Posted by Grant Brissey, Emeritus on October 13, 2011 at 1:11 PM · Report this
What is the Pho-Natics favorite Pho spot!?
Posted by jns on October 14, 2011 at 4:19 PM · Report this
Brandon Arkell 7
I wish the Stranger would do more stories on restaurants which are centrally located, like in Downtown/Chinatown. I hate busing it to far-flung outlying suburbs.
Posted by Brandon Arkell on October 14, 2011 at 5:51 PM · Report this
The Seattle Pho-Natics 8
So far Pho So 1, I love Pho, Pho bac on rainier
Posted by The Seattle Pho-Natics on October 15, 2011 at 12:53 PM · Report this
Is this where I can ask where the best pho in the U-District is? Because I only ever go to Than Bros after straying to Pho Tran and getting thoroughly ill shortly after.
Posted by Brunhilde on October 16, 2011 at 12:53 PM · Report this
@9: Try Questionland!
Posted by Bethany Jean Clement on October 16, 2011 at 9:34 PM · Report this
@8 Thanks! Can't wait to get my Pho on!
Posted by jns on October 17, 2011 at 9:05 AM · Report this
Foghorn Leghorn 12
For you Ballard/Greenwood types.

Pho Vietnam on 70th and 15th - Just. Pho. Quick, cheap, delicious, no expense spent on decor. Cash only.

Monkey Bridge - off 17th and Market. More expensive, like $7-$8 instead of $5-$6, nicer place, slower service, higher quality and bigger menu. Totally badass bahn mi.
Posted by Foghorn Leghorn on October 17, 2011 at 10:09 AM · Report this
noirony 13
And back down south, although not as far south, is the fine Pho Aroma at 5605 Delridge SW. It's about a year old, has a super friendly staff, super tender beef in the super pho. And the name of the place is super fun to try saying in different ways.
Posted by noirony on October 23, 2011 at 6:12 PM · Report this

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