There's an unassuming little place on the corner of 28th and Pearl in Boulder which deserves some recognition. Black Pepper Pho been open for a couple of years now, and judging by the crowd that hunkers down at its spotlessly clean tables for lunch and dinner, word has gotten out that it's a good place to eat. Their menu states: "Our food is made with my grandmother’s recipes from her original Phở shop in Bình Giã, Vietnam. Our tofu is natural, organic, and hand made in small batches exclusively for us. We use natural meats as well as locally grown and organic produce when in season." Their food, indeed, always tastes fresh and light and I always leave feeling as though I got very good value.
Asian food is a natural choice for so many of the health-conscious people running around this city, and Vietnamese food in particular really fits this bill. Featuring the ubiquitous Pho -- Vietnam is virtually swimming in it -- as well as grilled dishes, there's really nothing on Black Pepper Pho's menu that would produce pangs of guilt after-the-consumption-fact. The only things deep-fried on offer are their egg rolls, but even they come with a healthy dose of greens and mint leaves for wrapping before plopping them in your mouth. How can you go wrong?
Whenever I go to satisfy my craving for Vietnamese food, I am torn between having a steaming bowl of Pho, of which they have 11 kinds, or opting for a grilled plate. On a cold winter day, the soup almost always wins, the broth bursting with the favors of star anise and cinnamon. Besides, it's so much fun to play with the condiments that come with it, adding as much or as little of the mint, cilantro, basil, jalapenos and lime as I need to personalize my dish.
Still, there are days when the deep and satisfying flavor of lemongrass marinated meat beckons. In that case I choose a Bun or a Co'm (noodle or rice) plate. Pork, Beef, Chicken or Tofu (this is Boulder, after all) are grilled it to perfection before being laid on a bed of noodles or rice and nestled alongside a gorgeous salad of pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber, mint and lettuce.
If you're a dessert person their Mango Coconut Rice Pudding is to die for, and let's not forget a nice strong cup of Vietnamese coffee. It arrives with the still-dripping filter placed atop a cup of sweetened, condensed milk. The trick is to stir a little if you don't like too much sugar, or vigorously if you want it to taste like a dessert once the coffee has stopped dripping. You'll wish for more once you have swallowed the last precious sip. I guarantee it.