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Pheast of pho 

Pho Hoa a lesson in Vietnamese fast food

As sniffles and coughs begin to trouble, it becomes time to seek out a bowl of pho (pronounced like foot without the T). Although enjoyable year-round, the healing elixir of light-bodied broth with beef, fresh rice noodles, coriander and onions seems the perfect antidote to any head cold.

Pho Hoa is located on Buford Highway in the Asian Square, which also offers Chinese, Korean and Latino cuisine choices and is a popular destination for many seeking the soup. The bright chrome-and-glass eatery is filled with young Vietnamese kids cruising one another. Management has no qualms with tobacco, so most of the restaurant is suited for chain smoking. You can somewhat escape the smoke if you hide in a corner.

The menu: Unlike many Vietnamese pho shops, the menu is suited to beginners still getting comfortable with their Vietnamese palate and features color pictures and detailed explanations of options. The "For Beginners" section includes basics such as pho tai (noodle soup with steak). Or choose from "A Little Bit of Fat?" with pho tai gau (noodle soup with steak and fat brisket) or the "Adventurer's Choice" with such things as pho nam gan sach (noodle soup with well-done flank steak, soft tendon and bible tripe). Small ($4.50), medium ($5) and extra large ($5.50) bowls are available, but portions are immense and a medium is plenty.

What we ate: Although traditionalists go for the soup with beef, I prefer lighter options such as pho ga, chicken noodle soup with a twist. The broth comes standard with hunks of chicken strips, onions, coriander, and all bowls arrive with a side of extras: oriental basil leaves, bean sprouts, limes and jalapeno peppers. The piping-hot broth steeps with the flavors from all ingredients. Push the basil down into the bowl, squeeze the lime slices and let the juice infuse the broth. Bottles of oyster sauce and Sriracha chile sauce are also available to add more sweetness or spice. Pho do bien chua cay ($5.75) takes the base soup and adds seafood. Imitation crabmeat, fish balls, shrimp and squid are plentiful without turning the batch too fishy. For appetizers, the fried spring rolls are a must ($1.25).

Service: We were promptly seated and asked three times if we were ready to order or needed any further assistance. There's also a service device on the table with buttons for ordering drinks, ordering food or requesting your bill. A push and someone's at your table in a moment.

For dessert: Start with the coffee ($1.75-$2.50), hot or iced. The dark liquid slowly drips down from a metal, filtered container placed on top of a tall glass; sweetened condensed milk waits at the bottom. Then there are the pudding beverages -- rich syrupy drinks that include beans, tapioca and gelatins. Smoothies and other fresh drinks like coconut or the salty lemon are also available ($1.75-$2.50).

Who to take?: Someone close to you who's getting a fever or a bit of congestion. They'll know you have their best interest at heart when you sit them down in front of a massive bowl of steaming hot pho.

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