Portland has its share of good Vietnamese fare, and now Westbrook gets to join the party with the addition of Phoever Maine.
Yes, it’s a cutesy name, but don’t let that keep you from taking the 10-minute drive from Portland to try it. The food is worth the short trip.
Phoever Maine is inside that mini-mall of businesses on Larrabee Road. The restaurant is in the front, facing Main Street. It’s a small but attractive space, with about eight tables, three booths and a dozen or so seats at the bar. Asian art, including photos of Vietnam, hang on the wall.
Most of the entrees are under $10. There’s a good selection of pho, the popular Vietnamese noodle soups, but the menu is much more extensive than that. It also includes rice plates, vermicelli noodle bowls and traditional soups and stir fries.
If you love a good banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich typically made on a French baguette, you can build your own at Phoever Maine. Choose grilled beef or Vietnamese cold cuts for your meat; pate, mayo or spicy mayo for the spread; and top the sandwich with your choice of cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno, pickled carrots and daikon.
We visited on one of those hot, humid evenings that’s just a memory now. So we skipped the pho (a good excuse to return later) and ordered a variety of appetizers and an order of the Bun Ga Nuong (grilled chicken on rice vermicelli) for $9.95.
The appetizer menu includes spring rolls, egg rolls, fried chicken wings, sugar cane shrimp, crab Rangoon, beef skewers and traditional Vietnamese crepes, ranging in price from $3 for a vegetarian spring roll to $13.95 for a sampler. Most are around $4.95 to $8.95.
Our favorites were the shrimp toast, which wasn’t greasy the way some can be, and the shrimp in a blanket (both $5.95), which is shrimp, ground pork and spices wrapped in a crispy spring roll shell and fried.
The chicken dish was fine, but next time I’d like to forego the takeout, eat at the restaurant and try one of the seven varieties of pho. I’d also like to try the Portland Press Herald dish, one of four stir-fry dishes that are named after local landmarks.
The Portland Press Herald is a housefried rice with onions, carrots, pork, chicken or beef, Vietnamese sausage, shrimp, bean sprouts, scallions and cilantro ($8.50).
The crab egg-drop soup ($5.95) — made with Maine Jonah crab, asparagus, eggs, scallions and cilantro in a homemade chicken broth — also sounds interesting, as does the papaya salad ($9.95), made with baby papaya, cilantro, Asian basil, mint, fresh lime, shrimp and spices. The papaya salad is lightly tossed and served with shrimp-flavored chips.
Phoever Maine also has an interesting cocktail list. When the server told me our takeout order would take 20 minutes (it ended up taking about 10 or 15), I ordered a Phoever gin fizz while I waited. The bartender told me it had Bombay gin, coconut water, lime, muddled ginger and lemongrass (and I assume a splash of tonic water to give it the fizz), and it was topped with a mess of fresh mint. It was refreshing and delicious, especially with the coconut water.
For those who are serious about their Vietnamese food, Phoever Maine offers two “Weekend Warrior Challenges.” The first, “The Cathedral Abol of Pho,” costs $30. Finish this bowl of pho in 30 minutes without leaving your table, and your meal is free. The restaurant will take your picture and post it on its “PhoREAL Wall of Fame.”
Then there’s the “Westbrook Blue Blaze” for $15, a bowl of “pho from hell” that must be finished in 10 minutes. Manage to down it all, and it’s free and — you guessed it — you also get your photo posted on that wall.
Whatever your taste, take a trip to Westbrook and check out this new Vietnamese spot. It deserves a chance at success.
The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $10.