Part of the beauty that Macalester offers is having access to a varied selection of restaurants within minutes of campus. On the Green Line, east of Macalester, there are many Southeast Asian markets, bakeries and restaurants. This week, I tried the restaurant iPho by Saigon.
Immediately when I walked in, I was pleased to see that the restaurant was bustling with all types of people, young and old alike. When I heard the happy customers chatting, the waiters sweating and moving fast, I got a really good feeling about the place. Even though it was crowded, it was pleasing to see how quickly I got a table. For an appetizer, I tried the Spring Rolls ($3.95) which came with a homemade peanut sauce. While the spring rolls were nothing special, the peanut sauce was incredibly thick and rich in flavor. iPho by Saigon offers plenty of other appetizers that I definitely want to try later, such as the Beef Meatball Soup ($3.95), the Spicy Chicken Wings ($5.95) and the Egg Rolls ($3.50).
I continued on with their House Special Pho, the Phở Sài Gòn Ðặc Biệt ($7.95). Unfortunately, I didn’t find the pho that special. The meat was tender and flavorful, but the broth was a bit bland. Since the quality of the meat was good, it wasn’t hard to put in hot sauce and other condiments such as bean sprouts and lime to give the broth more flavor. It was still a little disappointing that the restaurant, literally named after this dish, didn’t have a better soup. However, the prices are reasonable. One is able to acquire a “large” for a dollar more, and if one so desires to have an “extra large,” it is barely over $10.
Even though the restaurant is named after the pho, I found the Banh Mi sandwiches ($3) to be the best part of the menu. The restaurant purchases fresh bread daily; that makes all the difference. Since one doesn’t have to dine at the restaurant to purchase the Banh Mi, there is a separate line that makes the process much quicker. One unique thing that iPho by Saigon does is make their own mayo. Along with the paté, the sandwich had a great blend of flavors. The regular Banh Mi has red roast pork, pork loaf, paté, homemade mayo, cucumbers, pickled vegetables, cilantro and jalapenos. I always thought that the sandwiches at Jimmy John’s were made quickly, but iPho by Saigon put them to shame.
If I were to go here again, I’d definitely order the Banh Mi. It’s the cheapest item on the menu and the one that I tried that had the most flavor . There are great variations in the taste, with both spicy and sweet, creamy and crispy, hot and cold. If one wants to dine at the restaurant and order more than just Banh Mi, the food I had was decent. By no means was anything bad, but I didn’t find it anything special. I am a huge fan of in-your-face flavor, and in my opinion, iPho by Saigon did not make the cut. Nonetheless, with a decent Banh Mi and excellent service, I am definitely going to go back and try more on the extensive menu. If you haven’t visited iPho by Saigon yet, I recommend going with some friends; it’s easy to get to, has good portions and, most importantly for many college students, it’s affordable.
iPho by Saigon is located at 704 University Ave W in St. Paul.