CORALVILLE — Tyler Phan doesn’t tell anyone the secrets behind the broth for his pho recipes, not even the employees at his new Coralville restaurant, Saigon’s Corner.
He starts each batch of the Vietnamese dish 24 hours in advance — the broth needs to simmer at least 15 to 18 hours to develop its deep flavors.
Pho, which in Vietnam is often a breakfast dish — is broth with rice noodles, herbs, and other ingredients, garnished with toppings like bean sprouts, basil, lime and peppers. Saigon’s Corner serves more than 10 varieties of the dish, including bowls laden with several kinds of beef, vegetarian bowls and broths with seafood or chicken. Some of their broth dishes are spicy; others are mild.
“I like to cook pho. It’s my favorite food to cook,” Phan said. “It’s not easy to cook — most people like it, but it’s not easy.”
He previously was an owner of Pho Zaika in Coralville and I Love Pho in Iowa City, but is no longer involved with those restaurants. Saigon’s Corner opened July 29.
Phan’s wife’s family has lived in Iowa since 1984. Since moving to Iowa in 2009 to be near them, he has only been back to Vietnam twice to visit his own parents. He misses his family there, he said, but the restaurant is a way to counter some of those feelings of homesickness.
“In my country, we all did restaurants. We sold pho in Saigon,” he said. “I learned from my family. They’ve sold pho for over 35 years.”
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He uses his uncle’s recipes. Along with pho, Saigon’s Corner serves up dishes like spring rolls, fried rice dishes, vermicelli noodle with toppings like egg rolls, shrimp and pork chop, and hot pot with seafood, beef or mushrooms.
Phan’s favorite is pho dac biet — the house special, broth with round steak, brisket, tendon, tripe and beef meat balls.
“I eat it every day,” he said.
The restaurant is connected to Asian Valley Market, a grocer stocked with things like imported snacks, candies, soups, teas, and frozen food along with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Inside the dining area, art and sculptures from Vietnam line the walls, along with two trees laden with bright pink artificial flowers. Fish swim in a tank near the door.
“When people see it, they’ll feel like they’re in Vietnam,” Phan said of his decor.
In the future, he hopes to open additional restaurants, perhaps in Cedar Rapids. For now, however, he’s focused on getting the Coralville venture off the ground. He lives in Iowa City but liked the location just off Highway 6, near the Coral Ridge Mall, with good visibility to the traffic going by. He hopes people who have never tried Vietnamese food will see his sign and decide to give it a try.
“Vietnamese food is very fresh and healthy,” he said. “I want people to support Vietnamese food.”
l Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
l What: Saigon’s Corner
l Where: 2301 Second St., Coralville
l Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
l Details: (319) 383-3953, saigonscornerrestaurant.com