Where: Noodle & Pho, 5450 Highway 153, Hixson.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: $7.50-$9.95.
In the Staples shopping center in Hixson, just north of the intersection of Highway 153 and Hixson Pike, a little Vietnamese secret is kept.
Noodle & Pho, formerly known as Sushi & Pho, is a hidey-hole of Asian cuisine. It's a nondescript little spot, but stepping inside will grant you a hefty meal of Vietnamese favorites.
The menu is fairly generic to those familiar with Vietnamese food. Like other Asian restaurants, orders are placed by the number. Appetizers include a choice of three spring ($5.50), summer ($5.75) or autumn rolls ($5.75), as well as tempura squid or shrimp.
For entrees, there's a selection of traditional noodle soup, pho, rare beef ($7.50) and chicken ($7.50), among others. There's also a selection of cold vermicelli noodle bowls, called bun, in chef's choice, ($9.95), pork ($7.50) and beef ($7.50).
Noodles not your thing? Try one of the rice dishes, like grilled pork rice ($7.50) or a combo of pork and shrimp rice ($9.95). There are also daily specials.
Portions are large - the staff can be seen hauling large bowls of steaming soup or stew to tables - so go hungry.
If you're so inclined, there's a small cooler of beers available for purchase and a frosty glass waiting for you.
Because we are indecisive, my date and I started off with a set of spring (fried) and summer (fresh) rolls as an appetizer. I typically do not like fried rolls, but these were crunchy and flavorful. The fried rice wrapper was bubbly and deep-fried, not flaky and greasy. The summer rolls were large and fresh, with lettuce, vermicelli noodles, steamed shrimp and pork wrapped in rice paper.
For my lunch, I tried the Rare Beef Pho. It's simply wonderful, and best of all, customizable, as a plate of cilantro, onions, bean sprouts and limes accompanies it.
For me, I'm all in, so my custom is to dump all I can into the bowl, add a bit of sweet hoisin and a tad of sriracha, then dig in. It's flavorful, with strong notes of star anise and tender beef.
My date tried the Beef Bun, a cold noodle salad with rice noodles, cilantro, bean sprouts, carrots, noodles and, of course, a stir-fried beef. It was refreshing and light, and with the sweet chili sauce served with it, a great summer lunch dish.
This isn't a criticism, but the only indications that you're sitting in an Asian restaurant are the food and a few scattered bamboo plants.
In fact, the decor is confusing, what with fake grape vines, cool-colored walls and a mix of fluorescent and incandescent modern lighting fixtures throughout the place. There are no waving "fortune cat" chotskies here.
Lack of kitschy Asian motif aside, this is one of the cleanest hole-in-the-wall spots I've dined in. The staff is constantly cleaning and picking up after guests, and it shows.
We knew the drive from downtown to Hixson would occupy more time than normal, and while considering the restaurant was almost completely full, our service was slow. There seemed to be a limited number of staff available, but service was polite and attentive. If coming for lunch, allot a full hour to receive appetizers and entrees. Or visit for dinner, a more appropriate time to take an hour to enjoy a meal.
Before I moved to Chattanooga, I enjoyed a similar Vietnamese restaurant in my hometown. I wondered if I'd ever find a place comparable to its deliciousness.
It's hard for me to admit, but this place is authentic and better than that place. It's definitely worth a stop if you are a fan of Vietnamese food or if you're looking for a comfortable place to give it a try.
Email Meghan Pittman at mpittman@times freepress.com.