Military towns like Fort Walton Beach are generally a sure bet for finding good Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and other hybrid “Asian” restaurants. I have yet to meet a G.I. who didn’t love some kind of Asian food, and who didn’t have strong opinions about what is or is not authentic.
Though there are similarities among all the cuisines of the Far East, there are also differences. Maybe the biggest thing that sets the Vietnamese kitchen apart from those of its neighbors is the French colonial influence, meaning that Gallic staples like butter, pate, bread, and wine can be seen on many Vietnamese restaurant menus. And then there’s the banh mi, a French-inspired deli sandwich served on a baguette with mayo, butter and assorted meats and charcuterie.
But, as its name implies, Pho Eva takes great pride in serving pho, a beef stock soup in which are simmered various cuts—flank steak, brisket, round, meatballs, tripe and even tendons, with noodles. Seafood and chicken are variations, and there’s a vegetarian version, but beef is the “soul” of pho. Served with pho is a plate of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, hot peppers and onions, for the diner to add to taste. On the table are jars of chili sauce and bottles of fish sauce, sriracha, and hoisin for further customization. Pho is easily adapted for sharing, with diners dipping stock from a common bowl into smaller serving bowls for individual seasoning.
My schedule required me to dine at Pho Eva on a weekday, minus both my wife and our six-year-old Grace (the Tiny Diner). The menu is the same all day, and takeout is available.
The exterior of the restaurant is pretty unobtrusive, but inside it’s clear that both thought and taste went into the decor. There are booths and tables, with modern-style chairs, and a sleek, black-silver-white color scheme. I was there for lunch, but I could see this being a good place for an evening out. Servers are polite and efficient, and can answer your questions.
My plan was to eat in, and get takeout. The menu offers appetizers, salads, rice chowder, sandwiches, pho, egg noodle soup, broken rice and noodle dishes, and stir-fry noodles.
There are 18 apps, half of them rolls. I ordered fresh summer rolls, grilled chicken rolls, and fried Vietnamese pork spring rolls. The fresh rolls, served at room temperature, are wrapped in moistened rice paper, which is slightly chewy. Mine were stuffed with cooked shrimp, sliced pork, avocado, lettuce, mint, herbs and rice vermicelli noodles. You eat them out of hand, with a sweet peanut dipping sauce.
The grilled chicken rolls are similar, only filled with strips of savory chicken and served with a sweet chili sauce. The fried Vietnamese rolls are filled with ground pork, mushrooms and vegetables, with a fish sauce dip.
Other apps are pork, beef, chicken or vegetable rolls, wings, teriyaki, spare ribs, crab rangoon, dumplings, fried shrimp, chicken fingers and pork and shrimp pancakes. All are great snacks, or could make a meal.
I had to order pho, and the “Pho Eva” seemed the logical choice. I ordered a “medium” bowl, and thought they’d made a mistake and brought me the large. It’s big. In the stock are noodles, flank steak, brisket, meatballs, tripe, tendon and round, all of them pull-apart tender (the tripe had the consistency of cooked squid).
The broth was already basil-fragrant, but I ramped it up with more herbs, chili sauce, lime juice and jalapenos. If you like it sweet, add hoisin. I ate every bite, and drank the rest with no shame (like everyone else).
I tried the broken rice with grilled beef, shredded pork, an omelet-like egg loaf, onions and vegetables. It was mild, but loaded with flavor.
Other menu items included pho with chicken, seafood, vegetables, spicy beef, and a beef stew. Egg noodle soups came with barbecue pork, seafood, chicken, vegetables and in combinations. There are dinner salads with shrimp, chicken or pork and the banh mi comes with pork, bologna, ham, turkey, beef, chicken or vegetables.
The vermicelli noodles and “broken” rice (fragmented in processing) can be ordered with pretty much any protein in the house. There’s also fried rice, steamed chicken, and crispy roast duck (limited availability, takes 25 minutes to prepare).
There’s no dessert menu as such, but Thai iced coffee or tea makes a good after-dinner sweet, and there’s a list of smoothies incorporating avocado, jackfruit, durian, sour sop, taro and more mainstream fruits as well.
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