Pho Maxia

Pho Maxia
817 Carman Ave, Westbury
516-414-1738, phomaxia.com

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It’s big news when a Vietnamese restaurant opens on Long Island. But it shouldn’t be. Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most interesting and exotic possibilities available to diners, especially adventurous ones, yet there are only two or three tiny restaurants locally. Even though Queens and Manhattan are dotted with Vietnamese spots, Long Island has been infertile ground for the cuisine—a number have opened only to close quickly.

Why? You tell me. Perhaps it’s because many Long Islanders are unfamiliar with Vietnamese food and are therefore reluctant to spend money on dishes they might not like. It’s a needless concern. With Chinese, Japanese, Thai and fusion restaurants on the Island booming, there’s no question that diners who patronize those spots will also enjoy Vietnamese fare.

Food in Vietnam varies depending on where in the geographically long, thin nation one is eating. The influence of China, India, Japan and even Indonesia are evident, so too are French favorites like bread, wine and ice cream. Unfortunately, the modest little Long Island Vietnam pioneers don’t reflect this diversity. The 30-seat Pho Maxia storefront, which is the best of the bunch, sticks to the basics and does them rather well. Its menu is modestly priced with entrées ranging from $7 to $15.75 (most averaging $10 or $11). The homey, rice noodle pho soups are studded with beef and chicken and are a satisfying meal in a bowl. Banh Hoi angel hair noodle dishes ($12 to $15.75) incorporate shrimp, grilled pork and beef. Spring rolls and bun/rice vermicelli ($8.50 to $11) are accompanied by the same add-ons plus bean sprouts, lettuce, cucumber and mint. There is also one soup, two salads, four sandwiches and six appetizers dominated by spring and summer rolls.

The cash only, BYOB Pho Maxia is a hole-in-the-wall operation in a Westbury strip mall. Yet it is nicely, if modestly, decorated with conical Vietnamese hats, slim wood panels depicting palm trees and bamboo half walls. There’s even a little thatched roof over part of the open kitchen. But don’t expect niceties like wine glasses or corkscrews. (They did go out and get us one of the latter.)

Do expect light, refreshing food accompanied by peanut sauce and fish oil. Narrow, crisp spring and summer rolls are ever-present. The super fresh papaya shrimp salad had minced peanuts and house special sauce ($7.50) and it fed four. Not a single diner could finish any of the mellow, substantial phos ($8.50 to $9.75). The grilled shrimp with angel hair noodles were touched with lemongrass seasoning, a flavor that also enhanced the rice vermicelli with spring roll and grilled pork ($9.75). Don’t save room for dessert, there are none.

The Vietnamese partners who own Pho Maxia, David Yu, the chef, and Hoa Du, tried their luck 16 years ago with Masia, a Bethpage Vietnamese spot which lasted only 18 months. They deserve better at Pho Maxia.

photo by pam deutchman / thefphoto.com

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richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.