When out foraging for food, sometimes the most unexpected surprises can be the most welcoming. That was the case yesterday when I stumbled upon Phở Dollar Vietnamese Restaurant and Bar. Don’t let the the name fool you. There is nothing “dollar” about this restaurant, and I am betting that there is a “lost in translation” reason for the name, rather than a by-design marketing gimmick afoot. No matter, once you get by the name, the restaurant is charming in a modern traditional Vietnamese sort of way – even endearing. From bubble tea to karaoke and LED mood lighting, Phở Dollar (it should have been called Phở Real), is captivating and a welcome diversion from whatever cuisine it is that has got you hung up at the moment.
There’s not a lot of Vietnamese food in Buffalo, and when you do run across it, chances are that it has been watered down with one or two other ethnic cuisines, which is too bad. Phở Dollar is the real deal. The extensive menu is swimming with bun/vermicelli bowls, com dia/rice dishes, phở noodle soups, hot pots, summer rolls, salads, wraps, rolls and stir fries. Unfortunately, vegetarians will have a hard time navigating around the meet-laden menu (pork, chicken, beef, seafood)… though if you’re a meat eater then you’re likely to think that you’ve died and gone to heaven.
Phở Dollar opened this past Wednesday, and I couldn’t wait to get in through the front door to check it out. I was excited to see a traditional Vietnamese restaurant open on the West Side, and felt that this was the perfect addition to the growing ethnic food offerings around Grant-Ferry. The family-run business helped to make my initial visit very comfortable and relaxing. I sat at the bar and was greeted right away, and was even offered a quick tour of the place. It was around noon, and the flat screen TVs were already broadcasting karaoke sessions – apparently the owners, staff and customers had been up late the night before singing karaoke. In a couple of weeks, the plan is to get set up with a full bar and break out the microphones whenever inspiration strikes. Truth be told, Phở Dollar is the perfect setup for such a social activity, and I bet that it would be a complete riot to go to dinner and watch the regulars belt out broken English versions of ‘Like A Virgin’.
When I found out that Phở Dollar offered boba (bubble tea), I immediately ordered a taro, complete with taro pearls. What I soon learned was that instead of the normal gummy tapioca pearls, the recipe called for actual fruit pearls that popped (almost like salmon roe). The addition of the fruit pearls made the drink even sweeter and more delicious. From there I ordered a vegetarian phở, which turned out to have some beef stock in it (they warned me), which was fine… I took one for the team this time. In all honesty it was the first time in a long time that I missed being a carnivore instead of a rainy day pescatarian. The phở was served with the usual accompaniments of sprouts, basil shoots, slices peppers and sauces. There was also plenty of shrimp, scallop, crab, fish and even a couple of errant baby squid in the bowl. There was plenty of heat, lots of flavor, and the meal was incredibly filling – and it wasn’t even the largest bowl available.
Throughout the course of my meal (the summer rolls were also very good), I was approached by a number of employees who asked how the food was, and did I need anything, and could they get me something… the service was exemplary, and there was an air of pride in everything that they were doing. They did their best to explain everything, although at times it was tough to understand what they were saying (certain words like “fruit”), which actually made the experience more enjoyable because I knew that I was a bit out of my element, which is exactly where I wanted to be.
At this point, I am already thinking about taking a hard look at the menu to see how I can finagle some hybrid veggie options that I am sure they will accommodate given the proper direction. I am also excited to bring a couple of friends along for a cocktail when they do get their liquor license. Phở Dollar has a ton of potential, that will hopefully be recognized when the word of their opening gets out. I know that I’ll be back for a mango boba, some summer rolls, and a host of welcoming waves and smiles in the near future.
Phở Dollar is open seven days a week. It is located at 322 West Ferry Street. Phone is 716-768-0049