Yes, there really is pho in Klamath Falls. And, yes, it really is good.
There are certain dining experiences that are so mind-blowing, I have to let them marinate awhile. Pho Hung was such an experience.
The place defies every stereotype I had previously held of Klamath Falls. I was looking to eat somewhere “iconically K Falls.” I was tempted to try David’s Brawny Burgers, which admittedly looks formidable in the best way possible. But, I decided to follow up on the recommendation of one of the AmeriCorps members in the area and go for pho. (This may have also had something to do with the conversation with another AmeriCorps member about how much fried food I appear to consume while traveling.)
So, off to pho I went. This process involved driving up and down Sixth Avenue for about a half hour until I found this hole in the wall restaurant was closer to my hotel than I expected.
I had seen some photos on Flickr of Pho Hung, so I at least knew what the place looked like and some ideas on what adventures it might hold. But, I still wasn’t quite prepared.
First off, the “false front” referred to on many reviews of Pho Hung on Yelp logistically refers to the fact that the door marked as the restaurant is sealed shut and the door to what appears to be an ultra-bright, sensory-overload grocery store is also the entrance to the restaurant. As I was beckoned down the rabbit hole, I passed through the hallway wall-papered with photos of take-out items from floor to ceiling, then emerged into a bright, tropical themed dining room in the back.
There are strands of Christmas lights everywhere plus fabric banners depicting various anime characters hanging on the walls. Plants (I was unclear if they were fake or real or a mix) vine up and down and around beams across the room. Yet, for as chaotic as the interior design is, the dining room exudes a clean, warm feeling, which is underscored by the exceptional service. Everyone working there checked in: about if temperature was alright for me, did I have a seat that felt adequately engaged with the rest of the restaurant and what kind of mood I was in and how could that be translated into the most perfect meal for me in the moment. Needless to say, I was charmed.
My status as an outsider, and likely from Portland, was immediately noted and assessed. At first, my server assumed I was a veteran pho eater. Unfortunately, this image quickly dissolved when I proved less adventurous than recommended with my add-ons. The server explained: “You want it to be hot, but not too sweet. So, you take some of this [grabbing the black sauce] and then put in some of this [red to yellow stratified sauce]. Then, you can’t be too shy with these.” He proceeded to grab the cilantro and basil from my plate and rip them for me before tossing the whole heads of shredded herbs into the pho. “Now try it.” I nodded, “That is much better.” “See? You can’t hold back. You’ve got to go for it!”
It was a lesson in life: don’t hold back with the sauces you can’t name and the various herbs that seem like they would mix poorly. Just go for it, by the fistfuls preferably. The aggresive alchemy worked. I enjoyed that bowl of pho more than any bowl of pho I’ve had. I learned timidity and pho don’t go well together. If you don’t have the balls to try all the flavors available and create the meal you want, then you will be disappointed.
Thus, the pho of Klamath Falls kicked off the theme of my 2010: create your own reality. Thanks, Pho Hung.
Hanging out with colleagues while on the road is a rare treat. Especially, when they are locals in an area that is less renowned for gastronomic delights, such as Grants Pass.
As my co-worker Matt and I were making our way north through the Rogue Valley for site visits, we had the fortune of meeting up with our friend and colleague, Kyle, who introduced to us to the Laughing Clam, a place with a healthy number of taps, and then directed us to the Circle J Cafe, with its gypsy vibe, both situated on G Street in downtown.
The Laughing Clam racheted up its curb appeal by having a strategically placed shaggy dog lounging outside under the glow of microbrew neons. The promise of cute dogs plus good beer is irresistible.
The Laughing Clam lived up to its promise: a wide selection of micro-brews, especially from Southern Oregon, were offered. A young, convivial atmosphere dominated. It felt similar to some of the bars in Corvallis that cater to earth sciences grad students (yes, I mean, Squirrels). But, instead of discussing their dissertations on how ecological responses to the eruption of Mt St Helens have completely debunked the theory of primary succession as it was once hypothesized, folks at the Laughing Clam are just winding down from work.
The Circle J Cafe boasts the most remarkable collection of vintage and faux vintage figurine lamps I have ever seen in public (scroll to bottom). There were porcelein genies, fortune tellers, and stalking panthers to name a few. The food is a predictable. But, the line-up of sandwiches, pizza and salads is pretty solid. After a number of pre-dinner stouts, Matt and I both opted for salads. My caeser salad was most notable for its epic size and generous use of garlic. Matt thought his spinach salad was huge, but it turned out that the spinach leaves were quite fluffy, so it ended up being a more manageable size.
Overall, I must say that G Street is my new favorite place in the Rogue Valley. I will be returning to both the Laughing Clam and J Cafe. There will never be another embarrassing Applebee’s moment again in this town (more on that later).
One of the AmeriCorps members on my team recently commented that she was surprised I was consuming and reviewing so much fried food for GastrOregon, so I feel a need to document that I do eat good stuff too.
Case in point: Nibbley’s! The most recommended breakfast and lunch spot in K Falls. Ok, my BLAT still contains bacon. But, see, there are vegetables!
(Oh – they also have a celery seed dressing made in house that is to die for. It is available to take home too.)
Three-hundred and sixty degrees of snow dusted hills surround Klamath Falls. The city (it is a city) is clustered around a friendly historic downtown and the long stretch of Sixth Avenue, which reaches out from the center to the edges of town.
Arriving bleary eyed from the airport (they have two flights in and out each day from Portland and San Francisco), I hopped into my pop can sized rental car and followed directions to the city center.
After cruising up and down the main drags, I settled in at The Daily Bagel to kick start my day. In addition to the attractive typeface heralding their name, the Daily Bagel boasts a delightful selection of artisan bagels and some sweeter treats.
I had the raisin-oat, which was quite reasonable, and, unlike all the other artisan bagels I have had in the past three years, it did NOT cause me to break into full body hives. Go Daily Bagel! This curious turn of events could be related to a number of factors:
- It was a raisin bagel instead of blueberry bagel. While I am not generally allergic to blueberries, it is entirely possible that I am allergic to them when they occur in artisan bagels.
- The Daily Bagels were not as artisan as the other artisan bagels I have consumed. For some reason, commercial, pre-packaged bagels do not provoke an allergic reaction. So, it is entirely possible that The Daily Bagel provides less of an artisan experience than I give them credit for.
- My overall sense of well-being was particularly high since I had just discovered that spending two days in Klamath Falls was not going to be so bad after all. Therefore, I didn’t have any stress induced histo-immune reaction to the artisan bagel.
Regardless, it is great to start the morning, and a trip, by taking in some majestic scenery and languidly consuming a quality bagel, especially one that does not cause a full body rash, before jumping into a day of meetings in K Falls. Highly recommended.
Of all places outside the Metro area, I would argue that Ashland jives most with the tastes of Portlanders. The downtown is packed with cozy restaurants, breweries, independent bookstores, and clothing stores. The shopping district invite you to amble and linger without seeming like a contrived outdoor mall. If that is not enough, travelers from the City of Roses have yet another reason to feel at home in Rogue Valley: Mix Sweet Shop serves their beloved Stumptown Coffee.
Featuring a requisite orange La Marzocco, Mix Sweet Shop not only makes the coffee of choice for most Portlanders, they do it with the right machine. And, while I am aware there is a backlash against Stumptown rising up in Stumptown for expanding beyond the city, I still find its presence a reassuring welcome sign when traveling. The little swift carrying its banner seems to say, “You’ll like it here. Sit down. Stop thinking so much. We’ll cater to your kind.” Which, as I age, all sounds pretty good. Thanks for pandering to me. I will reward you with my patronage every time I return.