Without a sizeable Vietnamese population, it’s hard not to revisit pho places in Charlottesville multiple times. So eager to try something new, we set out on a quest to discover a hidden gem amongst the mediocrity. After doing some research online for “pho places in C-ville,” we stumbled upon a Thai place called Thai 99 2 with good reviews that claimed to serve pho. Naturally curious, we set out Saturday morning to give it a shot.
When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was that the parking lot was completely empty. Just from its location alone, I could understand this. Tucked far and away from the main roads, it’s a restaurant that is difficult to accidentally stumble upon. In addition, its distance from large shopping centers in the area means you have to go out of your way to grab a bite there. Without giving it too much thought, however, we ventured onward.
I was initially surprised. The décor of the place was far better than any pho place I’ve been to in the states and the staff was warm and welcoming. We sat by the window and starting flipping through the menus. Sure enough, on the noodles & soups page we found their Thai Pho Combo. Containing the usual garnishes and meats found in traditional pho, we imagined it couldn’t be too different. Boy, were we wrong.
When the soup was brought out, it reminded me more of Szechaun beef noodle soup. Its broth had a darker color characteristic of soy sauce and with plenty of green onion, red chili pepper, and white pepper, it certainly smelled like it. While the soup didn’t resemble anything like the pho we were used to, it still looked appetizing. There was plenty of good quality beef, thin rice noodle, and a decent handful of bean sprouts and basil leaves to add. To top it all off, there was a mystery sauce, which, after asking our waitress, we learned, was the dipping sauce for the meat. I tasted a little of it and I quickly learned it was something I should not add to my soup. A little sweet and extremely sour, it should be used sparingly.
After completing our “ritual” and adding the garnishes and condiments we desired, we dove in. Despite my good first initial impressions, I was disappointed. There was nothing really special about it. A bit spicy, a bit sour, but mostly just soy sauce. It was dull and uninspiring – I ended up adding more hot sauce than I would have liked to flavor things up. When I stirred up the noodles from the bottom of my soup, I was even more disappointed. To my dismay, I had unearthed (unwatered?) a hidden cache of cabbage and celery. Now I’m usually one to eat my veggies, but the existence of the cabbage and celery here was completely unwarranted. The cabbage was soggy, the celery too crunchy, they seemed like unwelcome rubbish in an already polluted ocean.
As extreme as that sounds, not everything was bad. There was a great variety of condiments which the waitress later brought out, the quality of the ingredients was generally high, and the food was brought out rather quickly. Still, nothing quite makes up for mediocre food, especially when it is so pricey (for pho standards, at $10.99 a bowl).
Needless to say, I’m not in a hurry to try Thai pho again. Most of the reviews of Thai 99 2 were good – maybe Thai pho just isn’t the thing for me? Take my review with a grain of salt, and give it a shot for yourself. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it – let me know!
Final Rating: 4/10