First, a quick lesson for the newbies: pho is pronounced fa (as in “Deck the halls with boughs of holly!”). Therefore, PhoNatic is pronounced fanatic (clever!) and Mar-Pho in Marfa is pronounced marfa (clever! but sadly closed). Conceived by Austinite Pat Lee and his wife Sara (she of San Antonio), PhoNatic is fast-casual Vietnamese fare with locations at Northcross, Cedar Park, and Round Rock. Besides the usuals (pho, bun, and banh mi), PhoNatic also serves up fried egg rolls, spring rolls, rice bowls, salad bowls, and (wha-wha-what?!?!) street tacos.
Consistent with the Chipotlification of ethnic food, you can build your own pho and bun (although the magic happens behind walls instead of behind sneeze-guards), but you can also order pre-designed dishes, which is what we tend to do. During the summer, we order bun (vermicelli) bowls, essentially pho without broth. I’ve had the Ga Thit Trang Nuong (chicken breast with rice vermicelli, chopped lettuce, pickled carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, green onions, and fish sauce; $9.50) and the Suon Nuong (same as above but with five-spice pork chops; $9.75). Both proteins were nicely grilled, although something of a struggle to pull apart during the meal since they are partially sliced.
With cold weather upon us, we stopped in and ordered a Chin (brisket with classic slow-cooked broth, pho rice noodles, red and green onion, cilantro and a side of sprouts, Thai basil, jalapenos, and limes; $8.50) and Pho Ga (the same as above but with chicken). They quickly warmed our bellies as we slurped to the bottom of the large bowls. For me, hot sauce is key to pho and bun, and PhoNatic supplies the standard table-side sriracha, but they also provide an amazing house-made fire sauce that is flavorful and capable of bubbling the paint off of a 1976 Ford LTD.
One drag about pho and bun is that they are a mess to eat (at least for this gringo): rare is the affair when I don’t get something speckled onto my shirt. Vietnamese restaurants really need to offer bibs like finer Cajun mudbug establishments. The buns and phos at PhoNatic are fast-casual good: nothing to write home about (except for that house sauce), but they get the job done.
web&where: interwebs; 2525 anderson lane; (512) 458-8889
what’s the deal? fast casual Vietnamese with paint-blistering hot sauce; fast casual
overall: * (food*; drink*; atmosphere*; service*; instagrammability**)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]