Since we’ve always like to publicize local restaurants and thought we would stop into a new restaurant to us, Pho Cali, a Vietnamese restaurant at 3780 Northside Dr., Suite 100A in Macon, next to the OrthoGeorgia.
Prior to COVID-19, the restaurant was on our radar as we waited patiently for it to open. After the shutdowns and the closing of our print edition, we were curious about how things turned out, and stopping by today, we were not disappointed.
Vietnamese shares elements from Asian and French Cuisine
Pho Cali is a Vietnamese restaurant and a competitor to one of our favorite restaurants, Pho Saigon. Vietnamese cuisine is a distinct genre of fare that mixes many traditional East Asian ingredients with influence from French cuisine. If you have had Japanese, Korean, Chinese, or Thai, many of the ingredients will be familiar, but the flavors and entrees will have a unique presentation and preparation that sets it apart. Common ingredients include Thai basil, lemongrass, lime, ginger, mint, and cinnamon. These usually impart a fresh taste and offer a wide range of deep notes in almost every item.
Fish sauce is also a big condiment and ingredient and is used in a way that is similar to soy sauce in other Asian foods. At home, I often use fish sauce to flavor certain dishes. The sauce adds something different without being overpowering and replaces salt.
For our meal, we ordered two entrees, a grilled pork sandwich, and Broken Rice with Grilled Pork Slices. The entre is also served with a fried egg. For an appetizer, we added Shrimp Spring Rolls and a Thai Milk Tea.
The rice dish was excellent from top to bottom. It was laid out almost like a bento box. The decorative presentation certainly looked like something from a Japanese restaurant. The pork was served two ways, with a large portion of hefty chunks of sweet glazed pork. It was not hot, but still had a rich depth of flavor that made it difficult to stop eating. They also served another version of pork as thinly sliced strips. This had a more savory flavor that was especially good when dipped in the fish sauce-based dipping sauce.
People are sometimes frightened by fish, but the flavor is mild and sweet. It adds a perfect amount of contrast to greatly improve the more savory version of their pork. In the middle of the dish was a surprise, Vietnamese egg meatloaf. We could eat it as an entre on its own and will try to replicate it in our home kitchen. It is spiced ground meat with minced vegetables mixed in with an egg base. Many meatloaves have eggs, but this was a greater part of the whole and added something that makes this unique. If you try nothing else, get a bite of this.
The main course
Rice was served on the side and we paid extra for it to be fried. Excellently cooked with no off flavors and definitely not scraped out of the bottom of a serving tray. Each of the components was delicious separately as well as together.
The Bahn Mi sandwich was a nice-sized portion and price for lunch or can easily be served as a dinner with an appetizer. This option came with the same sweet pork served in the rice entree. The strong flavor of the pork easily penetrated the bread and fixings to give you a symphony on your taste buds. We did not investigate all the toppings too closely, but you could also taste the cucumber and sweet peppers in full harmony with the pork. There seemed to also be a hint of mayonnaise or some other oil emulsion-based sauce that was just enough to meld everything together.
Our appetizer, the shrimp spring rolls, is a favorite of mine. I’ve made these at home but are hopeless frustrating dealing with all the different ingredients. These not only saved me a lot of trouble, but were of much higher quality than anything I have ever made, being tightly packed, and presented beautifully. Their peanut sauce is a perfect accompaniment, but there would also be good with the prepared fish sauce dip, red chili sauce, or even Hoisin sauce.
Lastly, we ordered a Thai milk tea. If you have had one at Pho Saigon, you know what they are like, but the one served at Pho Cali is different. It is thinner since it uses cubed ice instead of crushed ice, but it also has a more intense tea flavor. It is still sweet and like a dessert beverage, but it is more of a drink than the one at their competitors. They are different enough to consider them separate classes of drinks that don’t compare directly. You can get these with a number of options that are outlined on the menu.
Overall, we were really impressed with Pho Cali. It is always good to have a competition to choose from and we welcome the new Vietnamese restaurant to Macon, even if nine months late.
One extra great thing is that our favorite server from Pho Saigon is working there and it was nice to see a familiar face.
Facebook and Google have the wrong hours for them and they are open Mon-Sat except for Tues from 11 AM – 9 PM and are open on Sunday from 11 AM – 8 PM.