Austin, Texas has been well known as the live music capital of the world, but most locals know that it’s also becoming a culinary smorgasbord for foodies. With such a wide variety of cultural delicacies, it can be intimidating to try a meal from across the globe, but one of my new favorites, PhoNatic, is a treasure for Austinites looking to dabble in new dishes. They invited me out to try my pallet with Vietnamese dishes, and after a few bites I was hooked.
When I arrived at PhoNatic, I really appreciated that the created an atmosphere that’s welcoming to newcomers like myself. It wasn’t a complete cultural flood once I walked through the doors, but they didn’t cut corners when it came to the food. The owners grew up in the Asian restaurant and grocery business, so they knew the traditional Vietnamese restaurants and and menus could be very confusing, intimidating and unapproachable for first time customers.
Pat and Sara both grew up with families in the food world. Pat moved from Vietnam when he was four-years-old and grew up in the Asian grocery business. After settling in Austin, Pat’s family was the first to establish an Asian grocery store in Austin and later, the first to develop a “Chinatown” center in Central Texas, anchored by MT Supermarket. Sara grew up in San Antonio, helping her parents run their family Chinese restaurants across the city. In 2011, the husband and wife duo opened the first PhoNatic and set off on a mission to modernize pho.
The first thing you notice about PhoNatic’s pho is that it comes out piping hot, and the steam releases the slow cooked spices such as, cloves, star anise, fennel and cinnamon, that have been infused into the broth during the long cooking process. Equally pleasing to the nose, are the aromas of charred marinated meats such as the marinated pork butt that is the star of “Pat’s Plate” and the “Banh Mi Sliders.”
PhoNatic’s dishes are prepared using traditional recipes and methods. That said, the restaurant also specializes in putting a contemporary twist on traditional Vietnamese cuisine. For example, PhoNatic uses traditional banh mi fillings in its Banh Mi Sliders, but instead of serving them in a French baguette PhoNatic puts them in a steamed peking (bao) bun. And although the ingredients used are traditional and authentic, PhoNatic gives customers the option to customize any dish, even if it deviates from the original. All of PhoNatic’s broths are made from scratch using stock bones for the beef and chicken broths. The beef broth takes a total of 24 hours from start to finish and the chicken broth takes 10 hours to complete. The vegetarian broth is made with radishes, mushrooms, onions, ginger, carrots and different herbs. There are no meat products used in the vegetarian broth. The secret to excellent pho broth is that it cannot be rushed, so PhoNatic takes no shortcuts in preparing this vital ingredient.
I was a big fan of the dishes, and thankfully they deliver. If you’re looking for a way to introduce yourself to the culinary delights that are taking over Austin, PhoNatic is a great place to start.