It seems some of my best discoveries recently have been unplanned, spontaneous delights, where the only camera I had on me was my phone and the best accessory I thought to don was a pair of old aviator- type sunglasses.
Forget the fashion. Today’s post is all about the FOOD.
Though Tampa Bay is host to quite an exciting variety of food, I’ve had to hunt to find standouts in any kind of Asian cuisine. For some inexplicable reason, which I can only chalk up to being homesick this summer, my hunt for these types of tasty bites have redoubled.
So, one Sunday when the man and I were pondering what we’d do for lunch, a craving for pho finally sent us searching for a spot to satisfy the hankering. It was not a scientific search, but Yelp reviewers pointed us to what promised to be a real gem of a find.
A 10-minute car ride over to the intersection of N. Dale Mabry and Waters Ave in Tampa led us to a La Quinta Inn, whose driveway we cut across to reach an unassuming strip mall. It looked like almost any other single-story, small shop strip mall with signs barely visible form the street. The only clue we had to know we were in the right area, was that pretty much every occupant in the plaza was tied to some sort of Vietnamese business, service or organization.
Encouraged, we wandered to the very end of the row of shops to the most hoppin’ business in the lot – Saigon Deli.
People were milling about outside the door, filling up picnic benches and tables in the still summer heat. Encouraged, we slipped inside and were quickly pointed to go find a free table by a waitress. The inside is basically a cafeteria, with little to no atmosphere, but the clinking of spoons and dishes and general hum of satisfied diners was encouraging.
Still, we ended up opting for an umbrella-covered table outside. Heat be damned, it would be worth it.
Almost as soon as our backsides touched the wooden bench, a server appeared with two menus and then vanished again. We perused the pho listing first, as we were both looking to slurp up some tasty broth, but because reviewers had called it out with such enthusiasm, we also chose a banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich with meat and veggies in a type of baguette roll) each.
Our server popped up as soon as we’d made our decisions, quickly took our order, went back inside, and returned three minutes later with two big bowls of pho.
I opted for a simple beef (which I also learned you can ask for on the side uncooked, which you then cook to the desired level in the broth).
N on the other hand, was more adventurous and went with the special – a meaty combo of beef, brisket, tendon, tripe and meatball.
As soon as we’d picked up our spoons, our sandwiches appeared, colorful and surprisingly full-size considering they only cost $3 each! I wasted no time sampling them.
The bread was fresh, the pork was packed with flavor and tender, and the veggies crunched to create an amazing bite! I don’t think you can beat the flavor for the price anywhere, not even off one of the numerous trendy food trucks rolling around the area.
The pho, meanwhile, was just overflowing with flavor. The broth was a meal unto itself and the meat, noodles, bean sprouts and fresh basil just made it an absolute feast.
Slurping and sipping up big spoonfuls, I forgot just how refreshing pho is. I regret that I could only make it through a little more than half the bowl.
Finally, I decided to splurge on a coconut boba drink, which was a whole new experience that I ended up quite enjoying (though chewing the balls of tapioca were a little odd at first)!
Bellies full, the sun really amping up the heat, and a sleepy satisfaction starting to roll over us, Nick went inside to pay the check which for two people came to just about $20 – a downright bargain!
We sidled back to the car, mumbling to each other about how happy we were to have discovered this incredible place and how we wish they had later hours so we could do weekly takeout (they are only open from 8am-5pm each day).
Though we didn’t know exactly when we’d be coming back for a fix, I did know we had a new favorite spot, pho sure. (I just couldn’t help myself.)
Find Saigon Deli at 3858 W Waters Ave in Tampa. They do takeout, but are a casual spot, so no reservations.