I was expecting Vietnamese food when I ventured to Pho Basil tonight. Or perhaps a combination of Vietnamese and Thai, given the name. I was also expecting a crowd given the menu we received in the mail a few days ago that had Grand Opening written in bold, red letters across the bottom; the group of a dozen in front who had just dined; and the large Grand Opening sign hanging above the door.
In fact, the restaurant is not Vietnamese but a comprehensive conglomeration of Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese. What’s more, the restaurant actually opened in November and the Grand Opening sign has been hanging since January. And at 8:00 PM on a Friday night, once the big party left, we were one of only a few diners.
Pho Basil is at 3280 28th Street, in a strip mall just south of Iris on the east side of the street next to Corepower Yoga. The location is unassuming but the staff is extremely friendly and the owners made an effort to create a welcoming decor with a few twists (like funky tables that bend towards the middle) you won’t find in a cheapo Asian joint.
The menu is a comprehensive listing of foods, from nine varieties of Dim Sum to Thai Curries, a whole page of Chinese dishes, noodles, fried rice, and the Pho listed on the restaurant’s shingle. This being our first time there and me wanting to test the products, we ordered three appetizers and two main courses:
- Thai Spring Roll
- Steamed Veggie Dumplings
- Steamed Shrimp Dumplings
- Thai Basil Vegetables & Tofu
- Moo Shu Shrimp
Everything was not only excellent but authentic. The steamed veggie dumplings had a dense and flavorful filling, the Thai Basil sauce had big leafs of the spice, and the Moo Shu Shrimp had a delicious flavor and high-quality, good-sized shrimp, not the mini frozen variety this dish often has in Chinese restaurants.
This was no ordinary Chinese restaurant and so we inquired a little more. It turns out the Taiwanese owner and chef, Tung Lee, has quite a resume. He went to a three year cooking school in Taiwan at age 15 and graduated in one year. He opened his first restaurant at age 17. He cooked for a large Taiwanese hotel and even became the personal chef to Taiwan’s president, Lee Teng-hui, who sat in office from 1988 to 2000 and is considered the “father of Taiwan’s democracy”. Compare that resume to any chef in Boulder.
In the United States, Mr. Lee has owned restaurants in Arizona, California, New York, Wisconsin, and Georgia. He owned restaurants in Denver that were rated as some of the city’s best Chinese eateries. As his daughter explained, Mr. Lee only runs one restaurant at a time and does all the cooking himself, because he doesn’t trust anyone else to meet his standards.
There is a deeper story here ready to be told about Mr. Lee. Unfortunately, this is only the book jacket. Pho Basil is an outstanding combination of healthy food, great variety, delicious flavors, and enough authenticity that you will appreciate it while you won’t scare your less adventurous companions with cow intestines and chicken feet on the menu.
We are lucky to have Mr. Lee and Pho Basil in Boulder. Ignore the Grand Opening sign and visit for the great food.