Finding good ethnic food on Buford Highway is rather like shooting fish in a barrel. But the farther you get from Atlanta's Asian corridor, the harder it is to find anything that resembles authentic Far East eats. Which is why stumbling across a real Vietnamese noodle shop in Clarkston feels like finding a Ming vase in a secondhand furniture shop. While the decor of Pho Truc seems like a cross between the Tiki Room and a skating rink (complete with beaded curtains and mirror ball), the heady scent of beef and pork will distract even the most ardent foe of Asian kitsch.
Use your noodle: Pho is quite possibly the archetypical Vietnamese dish and is unfortunately dumbed down for American eaters more often than not. Thankfully, Pho Truc executes its namesake with simplicity and skill. Noodles rest gently in a bowl of savory meat broth thankfully free of grease, with thin slices of beef or pork floating on the shimmering surface, and chopped scallions and onions lending depth. Unlike some of the more mainstream noodle shops around town, Pho Truc offers the more flavorful but less-asked-for cuts, such as tendons and tripe, which gives the experienced (and courageous) diner a taste of a more authentic and delicious pho.
Size Matters: The portions at Pho Truc are truly enormous. The pho tai nam gan (pho with flank and tendons) and bun bo hue (spicy beef broth with vermicelli) come in bowls so big you can barely lay your chopsticks across the top. The rice dishes, which are various cuts of meat that are quickly grilled and then put onto a bed of steamed rice, come on large oval plates heaped with different vegetables to mix into the rice dish and a bowl of fragrant soup (which resonates with the main dish). Com tom nuong, which features grilled shrimp coated with a delicious soy-pineapple glaze, is accompanied by a slightly sweet shrimp soup. Every dish comes with a side platter of bamboo shoots, basil leaves and sliced jalapeño peppers to add to whatever you are eating.
High on the Hog: While the grilled shrimp is quite tasty, and beef is the traditional meat in pho, the real star of Pho Truc's meaty lineup is the grilled pork. Coated in a fire-engine-red sauce and grilled until just done, the pork pulls apart easily under the fingers and virtually dissolves on the tongue. It's a welcome relief to find a place where the pork is not dried to shoe leather. The bun thit nuong, grilled pork with vermicelli noodles, combines the sweet savor and smoky complexity of pork with the cooling tastes of mint and basil and the prickly heat of jalapeños. This dish is sure to find a special place in the heart of every noodle junkie with a craving for pig.
Buford Highway remains the pho capital of Atlanta, but it's nice to find an eastern alternative. The food at Pho Truc is more than enough reason for intrepid noodle lovers to brave the trip across I-285 and head just outside the Perimeter. Tantalizing tastes, generous portions and incredibly reasonable prices will keep those people taking the quick trip to Clarkston coming back for more.