Restaurant Review: 6-1-Pho
6-1-Pho’s name is cute and clearly soup-centric, but its meatballs steal the show.
The corner stop in Clintonville is regularly packed full of customers learning the ropes of ordering at the fledgling fast-casual business. Like a Chipotle (et al.), 6-1-Pho features a cafeteria line where you can view your eating assembly options, before making any final calls. At the door, a host will offer you a cardstock menu: that helps hugely in explaining and organizing the ordering process, so take a moment to look it over before queuing up.
The obvious choice at 6-1-Pho would be Pho ($9.75): a traditional Vietnamese broth-based soup. Although soup might not seem like a winning choice during the dog days of summer, pho has a characteristic lightness that makes it work well in the warmer months. Customers choose from beef, chicken or vegetarian broths and an assortment of protein options. Teamed with fresh bean sprouts, basil, cilantro and jalapeno slices, the end result tastes sort of healthy, but not particularly delicious. The beef version needs more umph and complexity (even salt would at least give the illusion of umph).
Regardless, the meatball subs are worth several return trips. When it comes to the Meatball Banh-mi ($8.75), something involving processed and rubbery meatballs was expected (as is often the case in the local meatball sub scene). Instead, the sub is crammed full of coarse-ground, flavorful pork meatballs teamed with a tomato soy dressing. A long thin strip of cucumber, cilantro and an addictive carrot-daikon slaw that makes several appearances on the menu add layers of texture and flavor to the mix. It’s a different, and truly successful sandwich.
Everyone at the table should order this sandwich, in order to avoid food jealousy and conflict.
Teaming the house pork with a noodle salad (Bun, $8.75) is an excellent choice. There’s a couple reasons for this. First, the quantity of pork is generous (this is an overused unit of measurement, but the quantity is roughly equivalent to double or triple Chipotle protein). Second, the pork strips also have a seasoned, savory accent and are fork tender. Add that to a nest of julienned lettuce greens, topped with noodles, bean spouts, more relish stuff and a sauce to pour over the top. It comes off as healthy as the pho, but with more flavor.
For the snacky sort there are Vietnamese Spring Rolls ($6.25) waiting at the end of the chow line. Wrapped in thin, stretchy rice paper, the rolls hold a collection of pork (thin sliced this time), shrimp, noodles, cucumber, lettuce, basil and cilantro. By themselves, they’re more of a texture event, as the components all have mild flavors. Take one for a dunk in the accompanying hoisin peanut sauce, however, and the whole roll comes alive, figuratively speaking. 6-1-Pho also offers egg roll options.
You can find 6-1-Pho, and its meatballs, at 4386 N. High Street. There’s a parking lot in the back of the building. It’s open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11:30am until 9:30pm. On Sundays, it’s open from 11:30am until 8pm.
For more information, visit www.61pho.com.
Photos by Walker Evans. Photos are taken at a different time than review, so discrepancies between photos and review may occur.