After a long night of cooking and drinking more booze than water, Pho Ketkeo—or Pho Temple, according to the sign out front—calls out from underneath the imposing structure of the Temple Street Parking Garage. For us, this is breakfast, although the sun is already high in the sky and its painful glare intensifies our hangovers.
Around us are remnants of the restaurant’s history as a diner, and even a franchise of New York’s legendary Katz’s Delicatessen. Coat hooks line the walls, and a deli case once filled with sliced meats and sandwiches is now home to soda and premade Thai iced teas. Stock images hang on the walls, displaying Buddhist temples, rivers, and tropical flowers. One photo just shows a wooden sign that reads “Laos,” in case one forgets what cuisine this restaurant serves.
Every table is adorned with jars of chili oil, hoisin sauce, sriracha, and another bright red hot sauce neither of us can identify.
Those familiar with Vietnamese pho will recognize the sriracha and hoisin as necessary parts of the pho experience. But Pho Ketkeo specializes in Laotian pho, which has a sweeter broth, thinner noodles, and the addition of toasty, brick-red chili oil. The pho comes in small, medium, and “Rudy” sizes, with a “Rudy” probably being enough for three people to comfortably share. Whoever inspired such a monstrous portion is a person we’d like to meet.
Served in a vessel more bathtub than bowl, pho can be a tricky dish, requiring an intricate wielding of chopstick and soup spoon to work through the rice noodles, herbs, and thin slices of raw beef that will gently poach in the steaming broth. Of course, there are also accompaniments to be mixed in: crunchy bean sprouts, sprigs of thai basil, limes, and surprisingly hot chilis.
Revived by the pho, and somewhat in pain from the way-too-hot-be-careful-what-you-wish-for chili oil we ate a spoonful of, we also ordered a crispy rice salad with cured pork, chilis, and herbs, accompanied by a few leaves of lettuce in order to somewhat satisfy the definition of “salad.” It seems as though Southeast Asia has transcended the notion of vegetables as the necessary base for a salad, and we’re happier for it. Glistening with oil, this harmonious pile of salty, greasy, funky, aromatic Laotian ambrosia might be the best hangover food you can get, and it’s only an appetizer.
Pho Ketkeo is located at 21 Temple Street, New Haven, CT
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Recommended Dishes: Pho with Sliced Steak and Meatballs, Nam Khao crispy rice salad, Sai Ua with sticky rice. $15-$25 a person with beverages.