MANCHESTER, NH – It was not a mirage. The egg noodle shrimp pho, crab rangoon and sugar cane shrimp in front of Greg Pierce was more of a flashback, a celebration of his past, his present and his future now that Pho Golden Bowl is back in business.
It was the moment he’d been waiting for.
“When they closed my entire life was, like, butter-side down. I kept driving by. I was out there crying in the rain,” said Pierce, an apt metaphor to express the sadness he experienced after the popular Vietnamese fusion restaurant on Queen City Avenue suddenly shuttered its doors in April, and then seemed to take forever to reopen in its new location, across from the Verizon Wireless Arena.
Inspection delays kept pushing back the grand reopening of the restaurant, but for those who stormed the tiny eatery on Lake Avenue Thursday, it was right on time.
“No one else does crab rangoon right,” Pierce said.
Last night Pierce recreated the first meal he’d ever had at Golden Bowl, joined by his friends Nicholas Moulton, who ordered pad thai, and Louis Rodrigues, who ordered spicy saute pho.
“The vegetables. Fresh. Crisp. Lovely,” said Pierce, assessing the ingredients in his bowl, as Rodrigues got up to fetch his pho.
A few tables away Caralyn Cornett and Lauren Peterson were slurping up the soul-soothing goodness that they’ve been craving for months.
“I called once a week, every week, to find out when they were going to reopen,” said Cornett, who said she got the spectacular news that the restaurant had finally reopened Sept. 23 when her roomie sent her a picture of the front door with the open sign.
“She screamed so loud her boyfriend stopped the car in the middle of the road,” said Peterson, Cornett’s roomie and the bearer of the scream-inducing foodie news.
Cornett leaned in for another slurp of rice noodles dripping with broth.
“Mmmm. Just as I remembered it, so good for the soul,” she said. “Healthwise, I feel it’s all there – the noodles, the meat, the vegetables. It’s a healing soup.”
Peterson agrees with the magic healing power of the pho, and said the XL serving of soup is her go-to remedy whenever she’s sick.
“And this new location is going to be good. It’s awesome to see this crowd here tonight,” said Peterson.
There was a constant line of walk-ins ordering at the counter. Some of them took a seat to eat-in, while others stepped aside waiting for take-out.
The new iteration of this longtime favorite is smaller – about 10 tables that can be combined for larger parties, or split up for intimate dining. The central counter serves as a place to order and pick-up.
Jeremy Hitchcock and his wife, Elizabeth, were tucked in the back where there are a few tables off the beaten path.
Hitchcock said before he moved his Dyn offices to the Millyard, they were located on Sundial Avenue, and he discovered the Golden Bowl because it was the only place within walking distance.
This night he was so ready to revisit the steaming bowl of bun thit heo, thit bo hoac, thit ga nuong (vermicelli with chicken) that had left a vermicelli-shaped void in his life.
Owner Chan Loi was a cheerful blur as she moved around the kitchen, sometimes running tiny bowls of sweet-and-sour sauce out to customers, or packaging to-go bags, or double-checking orders, or greeting customers and thanking them for their business.
“So busy, so busy,” she managed to say when asked how it was going, as she whirled past the cook to grab a soup container for Sue Lee’s leftover soup.
Lee waited on the other side of the counter, basking in the satisfied sweat you can only get from a bowl of bun bo sue (spicy beef soup).
“I came for the first time today, for lunch, and came back with my husband for dinner,” said Lee, who had never had the pleasure of Golden Bowl cuisine.
“A friend of mine who used to live here and moved to North Carolina posted something on my Facebook page and said I should go,” said Lee. “I used to go to Wagamama in Lynnefield to get soup. That’s like 45 minutes away.”
Lee said she also tried the wonton soup (“delicious”) and expected to become a regular, joining the ranks of Manchester’s pho faithful, like Pierce, who isn’t crying in his soup anymore.
When asked what it is about this place, Pierce didn’t look up, or hesitate, as he continued taking inventory of his meal. For him, it’s about the authenticity of the dishes.
“It’s not that weird Americanized fast-food you get other places,” he said, tenderly bathing a fresh strand of bok choy in its heavenly broth, chopsticks in hand. “I’m so happy right now.”
Hours of operation (closed Tuesday):
11:30 am-8:30 pm
11:30 am-8:30 pm
11:30 am-9:00 pm
11:30 am-8:30 pm
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