Knockout Noodles: Phở 777
Willfully ignoring for a moment my slippery grasp of even the most basic tenets of the Vietnamese language, I'm going to go ahead and translate Phở 777 as "noodle-soup jackpot." And despite that slippery grasp (read: no knowledge of whatsoever), I feel like I'm on to something. Just consider the encyclopedic menu at Phở 777—one of those less-trafficked, non-Tank Noodle Vietnamese restaurants that hug the Red Line along the Argyle Street—which includes not five or 25 but more than 60 noodle dishes, of which 23 are phở.
Many of those 23 bowls of phở are simply permutations of different meat combinations, but the mainstays are a beef broth, a pile of fresh bean sprouts and Asian basil on the side for topping, and a submerged tangle of rice noodles. I didn't get far down the list, ordering up the Phở đặc biệt (No. 1 on menu; small bowl $6.75/large bowl $7.50), which is subtitled "Special 777." No. 1 appears to boast the most beef varieties—eye of round steak, well-done flanks, fat brisket, soft tendon, bible tripe and meatballs—and, indeed, the bowl arrived brimming with items to identify and savor.
Since kicking off Knockout Noodles, I could hardly wait to have some phở, a staple of Vietnamese cuisine I love for its warming and restorative properties. The combination of fragrant herbs, rich meats, a customary squeeze of fresh lime, crisp vegetables and pliant rice noodles, all bathed in a fatty broth that just begs for baby spoon after baby spoon of red chili...it sets you right. And Phở 777's eponymous bowl is very good. Texturally, I didn't enjoy the tripe so much, and I more or less ate around the translucent tendon, but the other cuts of beef here were really tasty. The meatballs, divided into halves, were great, especially after a dip in the restaurant's sweet, hoisin-esque sauce. Or, better yet, a little hoisin-sriracha half-and-half of one's own creation.
With all these noodles on offer, I had to try something else. I paged ahead to the Bún Khô (cold noodle) section and selected Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò Bò hay Heo (No. 51 on menu; $7.25), which features a nest of cool rice vermicelli topped with your choice of grilled beef or pork, lettuce, peanuts, julienned carrot and cucumber, green onion and mint leaves.
I opted for pork and was pleased with my choice; it was juicy and smoky-sweet from the grill. The sauce that came on the side was pretty standard issue, but overall this dish had a delicacy, balance, freshness and elegance that surprised me. The noodles, which were a little too taut and tangled when the bowl arrived, loosened up after a few dashes of sweet sauce and squirts of sriracha—the latter being a near-automated reaction anytime I spot the red bottle.
In the end, Phở 777 left me epically stuffed yet oddly wanting more. Good thing I have dozens more noodle dishes to try on my next visit.
1063-65 West Argyle Street, Chicago, IL 60640 (map)