Feature photo by Rex Roof
Tank Noodle, 4953-55 N.Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640, 773-878-2253
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 8:30AM – 10:00PM, Sunday: 8:30AM – 9:00PM Wednesday: Closed
There are few meals that are as rich, complex and hearty as a bowl of pho. I personally consider it to be a perfect dish. What I look for in a meal is a combination of disparate textures and dense flavors that play against each other to surprise throughout the eating experience.
Pho is a soup made with all sorts of interesting meats, a clear broth and many garnishes. It was invented in the early 20th century in Northern Vietnam and its French influence is seen in the charring of the onion and ginger for pho broth, which is similar to the method of adding roasted onion to pot-au-feu for extra brown coloring.
At Tank I chose the Beef Noodles Soup Special Combination with sliced beef, well done brisket, well done flank, soft tendon, bible tripe and meatball. The idea of eating tendon frightened me a little, but I’m a very adventurous eater and was up for the gastronomic challenge. The soft tendon probably sounds appalling to most, but it simply tasted like a slightly tougher noodle. Surprisingly, the tripe was my favorite meat. (For those of you who don’t know, tripe is made from the stomach of cows and other animals.) It was incredibly soft and the grooves of the inside of the intestine gave the soup another layer of complex texture. If you don’t think too deeply about what these meats actually are, it’s possible to really enjoy them.
Typically, the pho broth is made by boiling leg and knuckle bones and the marrow of these bones gives it a great fatty-umami flavor. Spices in the broth include cinnamon, cloves, coriander pods, star anise and cardamom, which all blend together to create an unparalleled flavor. I had never eaten an Asian dish quite like this.
You can also dress the meat, noodles and broth with pickled peppers, hot sauce, chili paste, tamarind, Thai basil, lime and bean sprouts. (To me, it was reminiscent of big Mexican soups that are garnished with raw onion, lime and cabbage.) The textures complemented each other perfectly: The slickness of the noodles, the crunchy bean sprouts and the soft meat all contrasted against one another perfectly. The fattiness of the broth was balanced by the acidity of the lime and the spiciness of the chili paste. Not that I would know, but this is also the perfect cure for a hangover. It’s comforting, and it will surely make you sweat.
Tank also offers a wide variety of Vietnamese sandwiches, congee, rice dishes and other soups. The menu is so extensive, it can actually be overwhelming. Thankfully you can stay well-hydrated with Vietnamese coffee, bubble teas, smoothies, limeaid and various soft drinks.
The restaurant was minimally adorned— lots of mirrors and plants—and filled with Vietnamese families, which is always very promising. I didn’t spend too much time studying the setting because I was deeply distracted by soup I was slurping down. The amount of Pho restaurants on Argyle can be overwhelming, so I chose Tank based on word of mouth recommendations. I would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone.
Oh Hells Nah is a small and sassy Mexican woman exploring the relationships between poetry, politics and food. She lives in Chicago, you can check out her blog — like hot dogs for your brain — or follow her on Facebook or Twitter@OhHellsNah.