Atlanta Orders In: Pho Cue’s Vietnamese-barbecue fusion is genuinely delicious

Pho Cue makes a very good version of its namesake dish, this one with smokey beef brisket. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Pho Cue makes a very good version of its namesake dish, this one with smokey beef brisket. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Editor’s note: With the latest COVID-19 surge having disrupted the restaurant industry, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has suspended restaurant reviews. Instead, we will be publishing weekly takeout reports. Restaurant reviews will resume when in-person dining conditions are safer.

As the pandemic bore down, and I started to devote more time to Atlanta’s pop-up community, one of the names that kept coming up was Pho Cue, the cheekily named Vietnamese and barbecue endeavor by Julian Wissman and Brian Holloway.

For almost a year, I followed on Instagram as Pho Cue built out its new Glenwood Park space. I longed for the day when I could perch myself at the bar with a cold beer and a steaming bowl of noodle soup, topped with Wissman’s Texas-style smoked brisket. The chef-pitmaster honed his craft at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q (where Holloway also worked in a variety of roles), and he learned about the flavors of Southeast Asia from his wife, Goldtong Lo, whose family is Hmong.

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This takeout order from Pho Cue includes loaded fries dressed up with banh mi toppings, dumplings filled with pork barbecue, vermicelli salad with smoked chicken, and egg rolls with brisket. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

This takeout order from Pho Cue includes loaded fries dressed up with banh mi toppings, dumplings filled with pork barbecue, vermicelli salad with smoked chicken, and egg rolls with brisket. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
caption arrowCaption
This takeout order from Pho Cue includes loaded fries dressed up with banh mi toppings, dumplings filled with pork barbecue, vermicelli salad with smoked chicken, and egg rolls with brisket. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Due to the omicron variant of COVID-19, it might be a minute before I can enjoy such a sit-down experience. Still, after stopping by twice for takeout, I’m ready to declare Pho Cue a well-nigh perfect neighborhood spot, where the comforts of a Buford Highway noodle shop meet the joys of good Southern barbecue, all at remarkably affordable prices.

For lovers of bright Asian flavors, as well as a heady whiff of proteins smoked low and slow, Pho Cue just might trigger a shout-hallelujah moment. When I chomped down on one of the hefty fried egg rolls filled with unctuous brisket, and tucked my chopsticks into a cool noodle salad topped with killer smoked chicken, I wanted to grab my phone and text all my friends.

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Pho Cue opened in November in Glenwood Park. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Pho Cue opened in November in Glenwood Park. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
caption arrowCaption
Pho Cue opened in November in Glenwood Park. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

The genius of Pho Cue is that it marries the richness of barbecue with the delicate kiss of fresh greens and fragrant herbs. Even the loaded fries are dressed like a banh mi, piled high with cilantro, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber and jalapeño. The $10 banh mi are built on diminutive baguettes, and stuffed with scads of veggies, as well as smoked proteins, including portobellos. I found my pork just a little bland in this treatment, so next time I might opt for the smoked chicken or brisket.

Five large, whole wings are smoked, fried and shaken with sauce — Buffalo, barbecue or lemongrass pepper wet. I tried the latter, an Atlanta-meets-Saigon combo, and loved it. The so-called Shake Junt fried rice was a knockout. Jasmine grains are tossed in the wok with corn, green peas, green beans and egg, and topped with pork and cilantro. Stir it all together, and it’s a $12 meal that I intend to order again, and often.

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Pho Cue’s banh mi fries (top) and vermicelli salad with smoked chicken are loaded with fresh herbs and veggies. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Pho Cue’s banh mi fries (top) and vermicelli salad with smoked chicken are loaded with fresh herbs and veggies. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
caption arrowCaption
Pho Cue’s banh mi fries (top) and vermicelli salad with smoked chicken are loaded with fresh herbs and veggies. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

An appetizer of steamed dumplings, filled with pork and served in a bowl of broth, also is worth a try. You approach the dish expecting the sort of Chinese dumpling you’ve had time and time again, then it hits you: It’s filled with the kind of classic chopped meat that’s standard in a pulled pork sammie — intriguing.

On the lighter side, the aforementioned vermicelli salad also is very good. It’s Pho Cue’s version of bun, and what transforms it is that impeccably smoked bird and the gently sweet citrus and sesame dressing.

I commend the restaurant’s takeout pho setup. The dish is presented beautifully in a sturdy paper bowl that’s sufficient for holding the broth, which is housed in a separate plastic container. The beef- and chicken-based soup is delicious, though perhaps not as deeply nuanced as some. Though it’s no fault of the restaurant, this is where I missed the in-house experience most. I longed to be in a setting where I could squirt circles of hoisin and sriracha around the bowl. A generous squeeze of lime (provided) and a bit of sriracha from my fridge did the trick, but the element that blew my mind was that killer brisket.

In a city with vibrant Vietnamese and barbecue scenes, it’s delightful to encounter a restaurant that embraces both, with a straightforward style that’s uniquely its own, never weird and just plain delicious.

PHO CUE

Food: Vietnamese and barbecue

Service: dine-in or takeout; call ahead or order in person (no delivery); the cashier was friendly, the food came out quickly on both visits, and it was neatly and thoughtfully packaged

Safety protocol: staff wears masks and requests customers wear masks, as appropriate

Best dishes: brisket egg rolls, fried rice bowl, vermicelli salad with smoked chicken, wings, pho with brisket

Alcohol: full bar

Credit cards: all major credit cards accepted

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays

Address, phone: 925 Garrett St., Atlanta. 404-549-7595

Website: eatphocue.com

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