Perfecting Traditional Vietnamese Dishes for Generations
Plano’s Pho Mac looks like most Vietnamese restaurants in America. Simple, clean, no frills. A corner television airs local sports and Vietnamese opera plays over some speakers – just one octave too loudly. It’s not Pho Mac’s interior that delights customers, though. It’s what lies behind the kitchen doors. Over three generations of chefs, recipes and picky grandmothers have had their impact on the menu, and it shows.
Just like many Vietnamese restaurants, Pho Mac specializes in one or two dishes. This isn’t to say everything on the menu isn’t wonderful, but for those regular to Pho Mac, they’ll know to order the bun bo hue or the banh xeo, first and foremost. While it may seem strange that a place whose name begins with “pho” takes extra pride and care in any dishes other than the traditional Vietnamese soup, it’s fairly common for Vietnamese restaurants to denote themselves as Vietnamese by slapping the word pho onto their names.
Bun bo hue is a dish that didn’t sneak its way into the American limelight the way pho and banh mi did. Yet, it is in many respects so much more deserving to be center stage. At surface level, both dishes are just bowls of broth with noodles, but where pho goes savory, bun bo hue goes spicy. Made with an enriched beef or chicken stock, slippery rice noodles, a mountain of fresh herbs and topped with a spine-tingling chili oil, it has the ability to clear hunger and sinuses alike. It’s rich, fresh and spicy without becoming unbearable, and even with immense portion sizes, most diners find themselves scraping the bottom of the bowl before finishing.
Over Pho Mac’s history, with a previous location running for 13 years and its present site being open for only nine months, it has brought an incredibly long familial history of cuisine along the way. Run by the Mac family, expect to find a collection of fathers, sons, aunts, uncles, mothers and even a sister-in-law or two cooking, cleaning, waiting tables and everything in between. “I came [to America] in 1995,” Son Mac, the unofficial patriarch of Pho Mac, begins. “My big family in Vietnam has been working on this recipe 300 years.” His beaming smile shows an air of pride.
Son certainly has the recipe for his bun bo hue down. He lists off every step in order without missing a breath. “Veggies, I go get them fresh every day,” he starts. “I cook the bones for 24 hours. Then add all the meat and render for two and a half hours. I cook [the thick, spaghetti style rice noodles] very slow. Takes 45 minutes. I make the oil every day, lots of chili, lemongrass, turmeric and fish sauce, and add it at the end.” He nods towards a steaming bowl of the soup on a guest’s table. “Whole thing takes 48 hours.”
Son points towards the banh xeo sitting next to it. A Vietnamese crispy rice-flour crepe of sorts, it’s normally stuffed with bean sprouts, steamed shrimp and any other goodies one could imagine. Banh xeo is usually the size of a typical omelet, but Pho Mac’s banh xeo has the diameter of a Smart car tire, folded in half. It comically engulfs the plate it rests on. “For 25 years, I make banh xeo.” Son laughs after pointing out how oversized the dish is.
When asked why he chose Plano instead of other cities with a bigger Vietnamese population, Son said, “I wanted to infuse Plano with Vietnamese food. We are 100% Vietnamese, we don’t have Chinese or Korean or other food here like lots of other restaurants – just Vietnamese, nothing else.”
Pho Mac seats guests in a comfortable atmosphere surrounded not only by delicious food and a happy family but a deep sense of Vietnamese culinary history.
Pho Mac is open 7 days a week; 11am-9pm.