The spring rolls are a treat with shrimp, rice noodles, bean sprouts, tofu and crunchy lettuce. The dipping sauce has crushed peanuts. – Photos by Tina Johansson
by Tina Johansson
Though we made a wrong turn, ending up at Pho Kho Gia Lai was a mistake we’re glad we made.
Truth be told, my husband and I were heading out to find a certain Thai restaurant, when we somehow ended up in the parking lot of the recently shuttered Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles facility in Libertyville.
That’s when we saw the neon lighted noodle bowl and chopsticks with the words: “Pho. Vietnamese Noodle.” I knew we had to check it out.
We made ourselves at home in the cheery, buzzing eatery. After chatting with server Kieu Che, we found the place was owned and operated by Vietnamese immigrants, one of them her mother, Khanh Ho.
The family has been in the United States for seven years, and apparently they were itching to open a restaurant. They gave it the moniker as an ode to their home province – Gia Lai in the central highlands of Vietnam.
Khanh and partner Lang Tran, opened it just a few weeks ago and brought with them traditional recipes for favorite dishes.
“She loves cooking and loves cooking for others,” said Kieu, 18, of her mother.
Though the sign out front says noodles, Pho Kho Gai Lai has an extensive menu of 62 dishes, not including teas and exotic fruit juices. Kieu who studies finance at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago while she’s not working at the family’s restaurant, pointed out that if there is something special that’s not on the menu, the owners who are also the cooks, will be happy to make it for you.
Asked about the tasty soup we enjoyed, Khanh’s 28-year-old son Vú Che, who lives in Waukegan, explained the broth for dishes is made from a constant simmering pot of meat bones that gives the food its exceptional flavor.
Several women seated nearby raved about their first experience here and touted the fried rice with chicken, the beef tendon soup, and the spring rolls.
We enjoyed the fish in a clay pot which sat atop a pool of delicate, sweet sauce and served with a large of bowl of steamed white rice. A basin of seafood noodle soup which was swimming with shrimps, soft boiled quail eggs, various fish balls and a medley of greens was also served, as well as plates of the crisp, cold spring rolls wrapped in transparent rice wrappers.
The white, ceramic dinnerware, chopsticks and long-necked spoons used here lend a bit of class to the restaurant.
The place seats just under 50 people, has nice lighting, is clean, and has gentle, unobtrusive music playing in the background.
An altar near the counter with little red lights ablaze and a fresh papaya as an offering, adds a nice, homey touch.
We are anxious to go back again and have the Vietnamese hot pot, as well as some of the other dishes.
Pho Kho Gia Lai is at 328 Peterson Rd. in Libertyville. Call 224.206.8128.