Pho, ohhhh blessed, glorious pho! I will travel miles for good pho, and that’s exactly what I did after Matt—a fellow pho aficionado—stopped by my blog posting about the Pho & Bun in Edmonton. Matt left a comment agreeing that the pho there is first-rate but that a new place called the Thang Long in Spruce Grove supplied him with the best pho he’s ever tasted. Well, I couldn’t just let that one go. I took the bait and headed west.
At the waitress’s suggestion, we ordered the chicken wings, a dish she said was the most popular and had become their signature dish, so to speak. Secret spices, and all that. First bite not too bad, a touch of cinnamon but not sure what else was going on there. The coating on the wings was oddly granular making me wonder if the “chef’s secret” wasn’t just a powdered mix from a package. Good yes, but after a couple of wings the taste was more “meh” than “yeah!”
I had to order the pho of course and went with the Hue soup, named after the Central Vietnamese city of the same name (pronounced “H-Whey”). Lord, it looked hot. Based on that impression (you first taste a dish with your eyes, after all) I expected the dish to be layered with complex flavours and a fire rating of 10 but surprisingly, the soup was mild. There was some good stuff going on with the cilantro and green onions and pork, but the soup was lacklustre in flavour and wasn’t a nose-runner like I expected it to be.
I usually order beef sate soup but seeing as I was weighing in on the Hue, Steve ordered the sate instead. A darkly-coloured, rich-looking broth suggested a high flavour and heat rating but again, we were left confused and wanting. Now, this is good if you have a low heat tolerance, but I can’t understand how it can look so hot (chillies floating and all) and not be hot. We were unsated with the sate.
But (here’s the but): the papaya salad was delicious with fresh, crisp, juicy, expertly julienned papaya, cucumber, red onion…this was completely satisfying. The shrimp on top were a good size, and tender and sweet to boot.
The vermicelli bowl of grilled beef and lemongrass was, as Simon Cowell would say, “completely forgettable.” Looked good, fell short on flavour. I even forgot to take a picture.
The sign outside, on what used to be the old post office, says Thang Long Restaurant, and underneath that it says Vietnamese Dragon Noodle House. The cover of the menu states Modern Asian Cuisine: Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Japanese Foods, leaving me to wonder what, exactly, the Thang Long is truly about.
The menu is extensive and features pictures of the dishes—helpful if you’re just venturing into the world of Southeast Asian cuisine—but what I have found in many restaurants of this ilk is that if the restaurant offers cuisines from several different regions, they fail to excel in any of them. Now, that being said, we did not try any of the Thai, Chinese or Japanese dishes, but based on my inaugural trip I’d be hesitant to return. So, sorry Matt…when it comes to Pho, my favourite, the Pho & Bun on 79 Street, still rocks.
Coincidentally, I noticed an “Opening Soon” sign just down the road (about 1/2 km west on 16A in the strip mall) for another pho place, so maybe some competition will make the Thang Long sit up and take notice.
My CBC Edmonton AM restaurant review of the Thang Long can be heard here.