Review: A Google search leads to Phôba, where you can find a memorable, delicious bánh mì sandwich

Sometimes a cruise around the internet leads you to an excellent bánh mì sandwich. 

In this case, it also led me to some nice steamed hot chicken dumplings, a big bowl of hot pho on that one cool day last week and an excellent boba tea made with mint and sparkling water. 

I hadn’t heard much chatter about Phôba, near 180th and Q streets in Millard, so I decided to check it out. 

This little Vietnamese spot serves a full menu of boba tea and smoothies, Thai green papaya salads and a handful of Chinese dishes, like fried rice and General Tso’s chicken and Vietnamese classics like pho and bánh mì. 

For me, that sandwich is where things really come together. A mix of all the best textures — crisp, creamy, crunchy, tender — makes each bite delightful. I tried the sandwich with the lemongrass beef ribs, and found the meat tender and flavorful. Lots of fresh cilantro topped the mix of meat and creamy mayo, tucked into soft but crusty bread (not too crusty to bite into, I’ll note) nestled against a crisp slaw with pickled carrot and fresh cucumber. 

Milk tea and taro tea

I paired the sandwich with a taro milk tea with taro “pudding” mixed in. The tea, made from  a starchy root vegetable that has a sweet, nutty flavor, is creamy and rich, and the amoeba-like “pudding” floats through the drink, cruising up the wide straw every few sips. 

I also liked a mojito boba tea drink, made with sparkling water, lime juice, mojito mix and lots of fresh mint, to which I added classic boba. 

We also tried the bright orange, milky Thai tea (refreshing, slightly spicy) and the classic milk tea, which is creamy and just lightly sweet. Boba isn’t a regular drink for me — I always see it as more of a treat, like a giant, fun drink from Starbucks — so I only get it occasionally. But I liked all four of the varieties we tried. 

Steamed chicken buns

A plate of hot steamed chicken dumplings (they’re called buns on the menu, but I thought them more dumpling and less bao bun) are satisfyingly savory, served with a sweet dipping sauce. That same sauce comes with the steamed shrimp dumplings, which we tried another day. I’d probably prefer the chicken over the seafood, though both are serviceable. 

We tried both the combination beef pho (minus tripe) and the seafood pho one day at lunch, and found both warm and satisfying, packed with ingredients and protein. I wished for a bit more warm spice flavor in the beef broth, and while I liked it, I still think my favorite is at Saigon, on 120th and Center Streets. Rare beef floated in the broth in large, rectangle slabs versus the shreds I’m used to. I appreciated the addition of lots of fresh Thai basil. 

Combination beef pho

The seafood pho features lots of it: shrimp, bits of crab meat, tofu and both carrots and broccoli floating in the broth. The broth itself, light and pleasant, wasn’t at all fishy, though it definitely had a seafood-scented aroma and flavor.

Inside, Phôba is neat and tidy, with a bright dining room and a handful of tables. We ate in the dining room one day, and though service lagged slightly, it was a busy lunch hour, with a steady stream of diners and nearly every table full by the time we left. 

Seafood pho

Another day, I ordered takeout around 11 a.m. for lunch and, by the time I got to Millard from downtown Omaha, it was bagged and ready to go, nicely packaged with plenty of napkins and utensils.

We didn’t get deep into the Chinese side of the menu, though out of curiosity, I ordered the fried rice with chicken, and found it chockablock with fresh vegetables and plenty of chicken, with a mild but savory flavor that wasn’t too salty. I’d consider it a win for diners looking for a simpler meal. 

Chicken fried rice

The cold vermicelli noodle bowls come in several varieties, and we tried one topped with a generous four crispy pork spring rolls. It’s a fun dish to eat: diners mix a cold, sweet fish sauce into the bowl, filled with cucumber, pickled carrots, lettuce, peanuts, fried onion and fresh mint. The flaky, warm spring rolls contrast the cool, tangy noodles, and the whole thing, like the bánh mì but different, is a study in texture and temperature. 

Vermicelli bowl with pork spring rolls

Phôba isn’t reinventing anything or doing any fusion. But it’s bánh mì is very good, and were I in the area, I’d absolutely return for a fun boba drink. Millardites, take note: there’s a new spot in your neighborhood worth checking out. 

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