Grand Rapids Food Adventures Part 1

October 3, 2016


By: Jared Behrens, General Manager

I am no foodie, but I sure do love food, and I love food indiscriminately.  I don’t care if I am eating a $5 burger or a $50 steak, both have their gastronomical place in my heart.  I have been thinking long and hard of what I should be writing about, and for weeks have come up empty.  I kept thinking that I should be writing about the things I am passionate about, but I was not sure if there was anything I am passionate about that others would care about.  It was not until I was pondering these thoughts over a delicious lunch that it hit me, “I need to write about food.” So here we go.  I would like to take readers of my online ramblings on a small adventure month by month through the food landscape of Grand Rapids.  I will visit some of the top-of-the-line fancy steakhouses, as well as, hole in the wall diners.  You would be surprised at the options that Grand Rapids provides if you just look for it.pho

Todays’ food adventure takes us south on Division, past 36th St, into Wyoming.  Pho Soc Trang is a perfectly unassuming Vietnamese café hidden away within a larger building behind another authentic restaurant (which I hope to cover later), and a grocery store.  If you do not know where it is, you won’t find it.  I first found this cafe with a friend year’s back when I elected to spend the summer never eating at the same restaurant twice.  I had heard of the beef noodle soup (pho) here and that it was some of the best in the area.  To be honest, I never had pho before my first time here, but after my experience, it is a regular staple of my diet now.

pho2As I walked up to the front door, I first noticed their newly redesigned awning welcoming me (nice touch).  After entering, I noticed that the floor had also been re-tiled, but the ambiance was still just as unassuming as ever.  This place is “no frills” and I cannot express that enough.  Typically one or two tables are taken up with food being prepped, or sweets wrapped up ready for some other purpose (of which I am not sure).  The tables and chairs are as basic as can be, and daytime soap operas play on the flat screen TV’s on either end of the dining room.  What I really love about Pho Soc Trang is the family atmosphere.  If you go during the summer, the owner’s kids are playing with toys in the dining room and shooting playful smiles at the patrons as they eat.pho3
The menu is filled with choices, but you do not have to spend much time thinking about it.  Immediately go with any of their beef noodle soups.  My personal preference is the soup with rare cooked beef, tripe, tendon and beef ball.  The food comes out quickly, and is typically served by a gentleman whom I have never heard speak…EVER!  I have made it my goal to get him to say something…anything, but alas I have failed.  Today was no different.  The old gentleman quietly brings out my pho, sets a plate of fresh basil, cilantro, beansprouts, lime and jalapeños next to a small plate of red pepper sauce.  I shoot a smile to the old man and say “Looks delicious, thank you.”  He only looks back at me briefly and returns to the kitchen.  I could care less, I am hungry and I have work to do.

Here is the thing I love about Pho, anyone can make it to their own liking.  Like lots of greens?  Pile them up!  Me, I like it spicy!  I dump all of the jalapeños and pepper sauce in and squeeze a fresh lime in the bowl.  I leave that Sriracha crap on the table.  Don’t even get me started on Sriracha!
Here is some advice I have for you if you are new to this.

  1. The portions are huge! Come hungry.
  2. Don’t wear white. You are slurping up large quantities of soup, and it is bound to get everywhere
  3. Speaking of slurping, don’t be shy. Make some noise, that’s how you are supposed to eat it.  If you are daintily sipping away at your soup, you are going to get some strange looks.

Here is the best part of it all, after eating some of the most incredible Vietnamese food Grand Rapids has to offer, I walked out of the door spending less than $10.  Again, you need to remember, this is a “no frills” sort of place.  Looking for silver wear?  Don’t even think about it.  Use your chopsticks like a big kid and enjoy the experience.  True, you may need to step a little out of your comfort zone, but I can assure you that if you do, this place will not disappoint.