Pho Hong3209 Eastway Drive, No. 7

Vietnamese Noodle House

It’s a long way from Vietnam to Charlotte by way of California. But that’s how Khoa Hong arrived here. As a teenager at Eastway Middle School, Khoa Hong was just a few miles from his destiny, though it was years before he knew it.

In March, Khoa and his wife Amber Le opened Pho Hong, a Vietnamese restaurant on Eastway Drive. The restaurant is located just a short drive from his old classrooms. Now the second-generation restaurateur has a place of his own where he can carry on the food traditions that he inherited from his parents.

Khoa learned to cook the food of his homeland while working in his parents’ restaurant in San Fernando, Calif. It was an unexpected beginning for this chef. In the beginning he helped his parents by working in their restaurant’s dining room. Then one day they needed help in the kitchen.

He wasn’t a good cook right away. It took many years to learn the intricacies and refinements of the cuisine of this Far East nation — 15 years in fact and still counting. “Vietnamese food has a lot of ingredients,” Khoa said. “I was learning something new every single day. You always have to learn something more.”

He got so good at making his native cuisine that he drew loyal customers. He even cooked for actress Sofia Vergara, star of the hit TV sitcom “Modern Family.”

Pho Hong Grilled Fish
Pho Hong Grilled Fish

To be sure, cooking memorable meals is easier when your inspiration comes from such a breathtaking place. Vietnam is mountainous, lush and green, with legendary waterways carrying moisture and nutrients to the land. The cuisine is a reflection of the terrain. The food is fresh above all, with lots of vegetables and variety in how those ingredients are presented.

Of course the restaurant’s name is a clue about one of the chef’s signature dishes. Pho Hong is named for the noodle soup that is beloved in Vietnam. Khoa’s beef broth, the defining ingredient of a bowl of pho, takes seven hours to make, and he prepares it every day. The broth is served over rice noodles. A plate of fresh vegetables and herbs accompanies every bowl to brighten the flavor and add freshness and crisp texture. A squeeze of fresh lime is all it takes to finish the soup. Enjoy a bowl at any time of day. In Vietnam it’s even eaten for breakfast.

Another signature dish at Pho Hong is grilled beef. A griddle is placed on the table so that diners can cook beef and vegetables to their liking. “You cook it yourself and then you wrap it yourself with vermicelli (rice noodles) and lettuce leaf,” Khoa said. “It’s for two people. It’s kind of boring to eat by yourself.” Not a big fan of beef? Try the whole fried catfish. It’s also a specialty.

You’ll see the family pride when you visit, no matter what you order to eat. For Khoa, the restau-rant is a special place because of the food but also because he and his wife built it up together.