Family-Run Vietnamese Restaurant Basilic Serves Miami's Best Pho

At North Miami Beach's Basilic Vietnamese Grill, the star-anise-laced scent of pho wraps around you like a Burmese python. It seems like everyone in the 96-seater uses a spoon to pierce the coils of steam billowing from porcelain-white bowls. Two women in business attire, all pencil skirts and reading glasses, load theirs with Thai basil and bean sprouts. Three dusty construction workers spice the soup with sriracha. An older gentleman takes a seat by himself and announces he'll have the same as the others.

Though the offerings are vast, Vietnam's iconic soup captures diners' attention. There are plenty of reasons why. There's the rich Earl Grey-hued broth, slick from roasted beef bones whose charred taste lingers in each spoonful. More smoke comes from roasted onions that also lend a touch of sweetness. Ginger and star anise give the brew a spicy, intoxicating aroma. There's no hesitation about lifting the bowl to your lips for a sip.

If you're familiar with Broward County's Asian cuisine, which includes excellent Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean options, you know about Basilic. Brothers John, Chuck, and Vince Vu opened the first location in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in 2009. An outpost in Boca Raton followed in 2014. The trio makes up a third of the family's nine siblings, who, over the course of a decade, emigrated from Biên Hòa, about 20 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, to California. Vince, now 48, led the way in 1980, making a perilous trip across the Pacific by boat. John and Chuck followed with their parents more than a decade later. Chuck, now 38, was lured by Florida's subtropical climate, which is similar to that of southern Vietnam. John and Vince followed soon, eager to serve Vietnamese food where they saw little of it.

Co-owners Chef John Vu, left, and brother Vince Vu.EXPAND
Co-owners Chef John Vu, left, and brother Vince Vu.

Now in Miami, they're filling a long-gaping void. Sure, there are a few options: Pho Thang near Palmetto Bay, North Miami Beach's Little Saigon, and Hialeah's Green Papaya. Yet the shuttering of Little Havana's Hy Vong in late 2015 only emphasized Miami's dearth of flavorful, affordable Vietnamese fare. Basilic's soups and noodles are here to help.

Try the pho with ruby-red slices of top round and brisket poached in the fragrant broth. It also comes with oxtail. Or pick springy, salty meatballs and braised beef tendons that melt like saltwater taffy. If you don't like red meat, go for the chicken pho. Also called pho ga, it offers broth with tender white meat, cardamom, coriander, and cinnamon.

Other bowls are packed with springy vermicelli noodles topped with the juicy fish-sauce-marinated protein of your choice. There's shrimp, pork, chicken, or beef decorated with a rainbow of pickled carrots, cilantro, chopped peanuts, and crisp shallots. But opt for the combination bowl, which marries one of the above with a pair of shrimp-and-pork-filled imperial rolls. The latter, called bún cha giò in Vietnamese, are a ubiquitous appetizer and meal used to celebrate special occasions. They're also sold here in their other form: a quick, affordable, everyday meal wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with herbs and pickles, swished through a spicy, sweet fish-sauce-laced dip called nuoccham. Though the savory filling is well seasoned and studded with mushrooms and carrot slivers, the wrapper leaves something to be desired. It's not the translucent rice papers that bubble up and crisp when plunged into hot oil. Instead, it's the takeout-Chinese-spring-roll variety. The lone other misstep is a green papaya salad without the requisite fish-sauce funk. John admits they do tamp down some dishes' intensity to please customers. But even without the fish sauce, it's a fine salad: Fresh, crunchy ribbons of fruit are knotted up with crisp peanuts. Request a small dish of the fermented amber liquid to release its full potential.

Wok-tossed green musselsEXPAND
Wok-tossed green mussels

With so many choices, it's easy to miss Basilic's sautéed dishes. Don't. Green mussels wider than your thumb come wedged into their emerald-lipped shells. A dozen of them are buried under a mountain of lemongrass and ginger woven with shreds of Thai basil. These are quite different from the Prince Edward Island mussels — they're not orange-yellow or briny. Instead, they're far meatier, with just a hint of the ocean's salt. But they're the ideal match for all of the spicy garnishes, which are enhanced with a squeeze of lime and black pepper.

Thankfully, the kitchen can blend a frozen bubble tea to quell the heat. Taro, a starchy Southeast Asian tuber, is the best option. The slightly sweet root vegetable adds a gorgeous shade of lavender, and its complex, nutty flavor is far preferable to sugar. Plus, chewing the inky tapioca pearls gives you a moment of meditation. In the silence, you can contemplate which cuts of beef will fill your next bowl of pho.

Basilic Vietnamese Grill
14734 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami Beach; 305-944-0577; Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 9 p.m.

  • Wok-tossed green mussels, $13
  • Combination pho, $12
  • Chicken pho, $10.50
  • Combination noodle bowl, $12

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Basilic Vietnamese Grill

14734 Biscayne Blvd.
North Miami Beach, FL 33181

305-944-0577

basilicvietnamesegrill.net


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