The Gourmet: The Mystery of the Missing Staff

Ethan Reynolds/Fourth Estate

A review of Pho Banh Mi & Grill in Fairfax, VA


Editor’s Note: Restaurants are scored by three categories: decor, service and food.

I live in the far lands of the Mason townhouses, and because I don’t have a car, saving me gas money I don’t have, I walk past the Pho Banh Mi & Grill everyday while heading home. Every day, I could see the lit-up bar filled with all sorts of drinks, and smell the delicious scent of flavorful pho, but I could not see anything else within. I decided it was a mystery that I had to solve.

Decor- Beyond the tinted windows of the restaurant lies … well … not much. Sure, it has a great-looking bar, but the decorations inside looked old and tired. I understand this is a restaurant chain, but I would have really liked to see authentic Vietnamese decorations. When I sat in my chair, I gazed upon the floor, and my goodness, it was not pretty. It looked as if the building was a laundromat before a restaurant. At least when I looked back up, I saw a nicely positioned TV playing “Chopped” on the Food Network. How fitting.

Service- The service was subpar at best. Once people started dripping in slowly, I noticed that there was only a dynamic duo of servers at the restaurant. Managers, make sure you hire more staff, because I had to ask for everything, and I mean everything. I had to ask for refills, a box and my bill, all things many servers who are not occupied serving five different tables at most could have solved.

Food- The food was by far the best part of the visit. I ordered the pork banh mi sandwich with tempura udon noodle soup.

The sandwich was served first. The only complaint I have about it was its assembly. I wanted to take a solid bite out of the sandwich, not have a mouthful of veggies or pork. The sandwich had a crunchy, well-baked bread. Inside was pork, radish, sliced jalapenos, mayonnaise with pate and a “pickle,” which was just a cucumber with no vinegar at all. I did not really taste the pate, nor the mayo. Despite all of this, the sandwich was good.

The noodles were next, and with the right additions, they were delicious. They were primarily filled with tofu, carrots, scallops and shrimp balls. The noodles were served hot and ready, and I took my time eating them, which was nice. The flavors were balanced and authentic.

Pho Banh Mi & Grill was a place filled with good food, but mediocre service and pretty bad decor. If you are looking for a place to have a long, casual date with some decent food, this is the place to be. Otherwise, I think there are better places around for pho. It seems this mystery is closed, and I’ll give it a simple and digestible rating of 2.9 empty cups of water out of 5.