- 2513 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson, AZ, 85719
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Tue.-Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
What we ordered: one No. 13 hu tieu dac biet noodle soup ($7.20), three baguette sandwiches ($10.25 total) and a soft drink ($1.75) for a total of $19.20, just under our Cheap Eats goal of $20 for two people.
Comments: Vietnamese food is like a poncho. The second you feel a breeze tickling your neck and that first drop of condensation, the brain travels to a celestial paradise of mi xao don and pho with meatballs and sizzling beef steak. It's pretty much unstoppable.
But what happens when the air warms up and your feet begin to reject the socks? You can't just very well give up cilantro and fish sauce! What do the Vietnamese do?
They eat tankinis.
Food: Like the swimwear, the bánh mì sandwich is Vietnam's answer to hot weather. Substantial but still embracing light flavors of herbs and fluffy bread, the baguette has become a symbol of the country's diversity. And recently, it's been a huge trend. (Shout out to Lee's Sandwiches in Chandler!) In big cities like New York and San Francisco, the Vietnamese cold cuts are often more prevalent than the Subways. In town, even Janos has a $12 bánh mì at his Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails. Although, the rest of Tucson has been seriously lagging.
Not anymore though! This newish Vietnamese restaurant is probably the only place you can get an authentic bánh mì in the central area. (Perhaps the entire city?) And they're really good too. On our visit, my lunch partner was insanely hungry and managed to chew through three of these tropical babies. (Most could get by with one or two.) I Luv Pho carries a great selection of the sandwiches, with grilled pork, cold cuts, vegetarian tofu and a yellow curry chicken that hasn't been put on the menu yet.
Of the three we tried, the grilled pork ($3.25) was the favorite, although the others were close behind. The thinly sliced cucumbers, cilantro and pickled carrots lightened up the succulent, saucy sweet pork, giving the sandwich a hearty but not heavy taste. The cold cuts ($3.50) had several thin layers of fatty meat (we later found out they were different varieties of pork, including pork liver paté), making it taste the most American, aside from the cilantro and pickled veggies. The yellow chicken curry ($3.50) was deep and flavorful. Equally important: The bread in these sandwiches was top-notch. Not too dense, not too airy. (The store sources the bread from the local bakery La Baguette Parisienne, and was actually out of it on our previous visit. So disappointing!)
It's still a little chipper out there, so I decided to warm my belly with the Vietnamese version of chicken soup: hu tieu with pork, shrimp, whitefish and imitation crab. (Just wasn't feelin' the beef that day.) Put simply, it was one of the best I've had in town. The proteins were perfectly cooked, the light broth was full-flavored, and the crunchy disks of garlic gave it an extra dimension. Although the side items didn't include fresh basil, the bean sprouts, cilantro, lime and jalapeño were of good quality and definitely fresh. This isn't one of those places that gives you moldy garnishes.
Service: A waiter takes care of you, but you pay at the counter. The face of the shop seems to be an extremely nice Caucasian kid who explains all the dishes in detail. Nice for the newbies, grating for the Larry Davids of the world.
Perks: They do delivery!
Bottom line: With so much competition in the area, I Luv Pho has to do something to make itself stick out. It's not the ambiance, which was clean and colorful but not too special. It's not the pho either, which is well-done all around town. Yup, it's gotta be the sandwiches. Because although Tucson has been a little cold lately, it's still the desert and, yes, those saguaros are there for a reason.