Sometimes you root for a restaurant

Elkhart has a pretty new Cambodian/Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant.
Posted on Dec. 9, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Marshall V. King

Dining A La King

Elkhart has a “house of pho.”

I had no idea until recently.

And it turns out to be a restaurant I’ve started rooting for its success.

Angkor Wat House of Pho is a Cambodian/Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant in an unlikely spot. In what was a Hispanic bakery and then a pizza place that also served Mexican food, a family opened an Asian restaurant.

My new restaurant radar is pretty finely tuned, but I drove past it dozens of times before I saw it. The spot at 319 W. Lusher Ave. isn’t easy to see. It needs some fine-tuning, but I’m hoping it gets the time for that to happen.

Charles May and Sari Sar, along with their daughter, Sapphire Hanbounleng, opened the place in May.

He’s a carpenter by trade, but had restaurant experience. Before moving here in 1999, he worked in a Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia.

He’s of Vietnamese and Chinese descent. Sar is Cambodian.

And together the menu has tastes of all three places.

They decided to try a restaurant. And what’s happened so far has surprised them.

“It’s harder than we thought,” he said.

There are days they only have a few customers, a very few. There are days that business is a bit better. But it’s not what it could be.

“I don’t think people know us yet,” Sar said. “Hopefully we see a lot of customers.”

Angkor Wat House of Pho is a bit of a dive. The building has some scars. But there’s a kitchen and a few tables.

Like many new small restaurants, it could be more refined.

The pho broth could be a little richer. The pad thai could be a little tangier. The cilantro in the spring rolls could be fresher.

But from what I’ve had, there’s enough good here that I really want this place to make it.

The pho (pronounced “fun”) is a Vietnamese soup served in a massive bowl with the appropriate sides of bean sprouts, jalapeños, lime and mint (though some places use basil instead.) You can get the basic meatball versions for $6 or other variations for up to $9.

I had the seafood pho and added Sar’s hot sauce. A small container of deep, dark sauce has oil and chills. And it’s fiery, but still full of flavor. But this isn’t Tabasco or even sriracha. This has a lot more kick. But the sauce is glorious.

When I was done eating, Sar asked if I was OK. Apparently, my face was flushed.

The egg rolls are lovely. They’re the small Cambodian style rolls and are 60 cents each.

The spring rolls are full of vegetables and noodles and are worth $2 each.

The pad thai is decent, though I thought it could use more tamarind. “Every customer has different tastes,” Sar said, explaining that she made it the way some other customers liked it, but would make it the way I requested.

That’s the gift and curse of a place like this. It’s a small open kitchen and it’s not yet geared for crowds like Ricky’s Taqueria or Jade Garden (the Johnson Street location) would be. Sar or Hanbounleng make the food after you order and bring it to you on nice plates with napkins like what you’d buy for home wrapping the silverware.

What’s selling is fried rice, lo mein, sweet and sour chicken, hot wings, egg rolls and crab rangoon. But more adventurous eaters — and yes I’m one of those — can find other options.

Before I became a more adventurous eater, chicken and broccoli was what I ordered from Chinese restaurants. It’s still a good test of what a place can do.

Hanbounleng made me a plate with white rice and crisp broccoli I watched her steam and then stir-fry with tender chicken pieces. It was laced with ginger and garlic. There was a light sauce. And I was very happy, particularly after adding some of that dark chili oil.

One co-worker didn’t like the sweet and sour chicken. I haven’t had it. But what I’ve had I’ve liked.

And I want this family, who says that owning a restaurant is far different from cooking at home, to succeed in their homey little restaurant.

If a bunch of people show up at once, they may struggle to keep up. This is a cool little ethnic restaurant where people are trying to make their dream of having a restaurant come true.

I hope they continue to get the chance because I like that Elkhart has another place that offers these kinds of flavors.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@etruth.com, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

If You Go

What: Angkor Wat House of Pho

Where: 319 W. Lusher Ave., Elkhart

Fare: Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 to 5 Sunday

Phone: 574 294-4151

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