Ever since I came to Lafayette from Vietnam, I have been catching buses to New York City and hopping on planes to Houston in search of homey flavors to awaken my taste buds from the coma commonly known as “campus food.” The search is no longer far from Lafayette.
Returning to school after summer break, I was pleasantly surprised to find Love Phở & PL Cafe, a Vietnamese Noodle House taking up the vacant spot at 425 Northampton Street, neighbor to the Asian Market run by the same owners in downtown Easton.
The bamboo-patterned glass door opens up to a cozy space very reminiscent of family-owned pho shops in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. The atmosphere is reinforced by cheesy Vietnamese tunes playing in the background and vibrant gold-framed landscape paintings often found in Vietnamese households.
While waiting for my order to arrive, my homesickness was cured at the sight of the condiment caddy at the far end of the table. From đũa tre (non-reusable bamboo chopsticks) to tương ăn phở (hoisin sauce), nước mắm (fish sauce), and even a jar of homemade ớt chưng (oily chilli paste), nothing was missing from the Vietnamese cuisine starter pack. Though for the sake of the environment, I would prefer a more sustainable choice of chopsticks such as wood or plastic over the convenient and traditional đũa tre.
For an appetizer, I had bì cuốn, a fresh summer roll consisting of flavorful herbs and well-seasoned shredded pork skin covered in thính (toasted rice powder), all wrapped together in rice paper and served with a fish sauce-based dipping. The chewy pork skin cuts through the crunch of the fresh herb layers, blending well with the umami of the fish sauce.
The menu invites customers to mix and match different cuts of beef: tender brisket, fatty marbled flank, crunchy tripe, gluey tendon, and razor-thin sliced steak to create their own noodle bowls. I opted for phở bò đặc biệt (special beef noodle) with all cuts of beef as my entrée to try a little bit of everything. Although the noodles and the meat were just right, the broth, which often makes or breaks this Vietnamese classic, lacked a certain depth of rich and savory flavors.
I managed to salvage the broth with some basil, ớt chưng (oily chilli paste), and nước mắm (fish sauce), yet the experience was rather underwhelming considering that the customization should only be used to supplement an already tasty phở, not to completely transform a bland broth into a flavorful one.
I’m not a regular boba drinker, but the opening of this restaurant was a special occasion deserving of a boba celebration. The pastel purple taro-flavored drink came in a domed-lid plastic cup with a jumbo straw designed for sucking up shiny tapioca pearls. It was sweet and hearty yet not saccharine, a perfect choice to round off my mid-week Vietnamese dinner.
Overall, there is undoubtedly room for improvement, especially with the phở. However, at $23 after tipping, the price point was reasonable for a cozy Vietnamese experience in the heart of Easton. I would recommend this restaurant for anyone at Lafayette looking to get off campus and explore foods from around the world.