A decade ago (how time flies), I used to live on Oahu, Hawaii. I had the privilege of living there for about 2 years in a 2 bedroom condo on the 40th floor with a breathtaking view of Pearl Harbor. I was 23 at the time. I remember walking into that condo and instantly falling in love. I just knew that was the place where I would spend my time while living in paradise. I lived in Hawaii immediately after I got out of the Marine Corps while accompanying the ex during his final tour. It seemed like a great idea. We had researched the units that had recently deployed and thought we picked the one least likely to deploy again during the short time that he had left on his contract. Boy were we wrong. He was immediately shipped off to Iraq and I spent the next 18 months living on the island alone.
One of my favorite things about living in Hawaii was the food! Oh, the food was amazing. And if you found a REAL, non-chain, away from the strip, hole in the wall place it was surprisingly affordable! Because the ex was so quickly shipped off, and we lived off the Marine base, I never really had the opportunity to meet many of the other military wives (which being a former Marine, I was ok with since I had a stereotype in my head and wanted no part of them anyway). Luckily, I already had a job at a small supply company when I landed on the island and so I got to meet and become close with some amazing “local” women.
This is where I tried Vietnamese Pho for the first time. Unfortunately for me (because of where I lived) the bar was immediately set pretty high. Since moving to the Cincinnati area, I have tried a few places that have left me mostly underwhelmed and unimpressed. There was a small place on Mall Rd in Florence for a little while that was pretty amazing, but I was ALWAYS the only person in there when I went and so naturally it quickly closed. Guess the Kentuckians didn’t want to try the Pho, ya’ll.
The other day I was randomly craving Pho again. I had my heart set on a place in Findlay Market and looked at the menu online. While doing that research, I ran across a review for Cilantro and went to their website. I’ll be honest, the “About Us” story is what got me. I’m a sucker for the small guy and so even though I was afraid to go anywhere near the University due to the lack of parking and my fear of hipsters, I headed over to Clifton.
Cilantro is right smack at the “T” where Clifton Ave dead ends into McMillan. Parking was as annoying as I expected it to be and I almost drove away but I pressed through and parked a few blocks away on Chickasaw Street because I didn’t want to pay for the crazy metered parking closer to the restaurant.
(yeah, yeah… my pictures suck)
I immediately fell in love with their prices, being the thrifty budget mcbudgety that I am. The appetizers were mostly listed at $1.75! Normally I forego appetizers when eating lunch, but I just couldn’t pass it up at that price. I ordered the soft pork and shrimp roll. It was ah-may-zing. Next time I go there, I’m ordering two (or three).
Even though they had a few other options on the menu, I (of course), got the Beef Pho. I will say that I was slightly confused by the menu (that was obviously written so the gringos understand) because they had two options for the noodles to come with the Pho: Rice Noodles and Vermicelli Noodles. Well, who the heck eats Pho with Vermicelli Noodles, right? So, not reading the small print, I ordered the Rice Noodles (duh) and ended up getting wide, flat rice noodles. So disappointing! Had I read the small print, I would have known that the Vermicelli Noodles were in fact rice noodles, just the thin ones that I’m used to eating with my Pho. The Pho is all about the broth and so I just felt that I couldn’t get a good mix of the broth’s flavor with the wide noodle. And I made a mess, splashing broth everywhere. It was a good thing I was eating alone! So, be sure to order the “vermicelli” noodles if you decide to try this place (as I will next time) in order to get a good noodles to broth ratio. Such a good value at $6.50 for a head sized bowl of Pho. I rolled out of this place! And I can’t wait to do it again!