A+ Pho

dining_AsianExpressCan’t decide between Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese food? At Capitola’s new Asian Express you can enjoy all three. As an added bonus, they make an exceptional bowl of pho (which approximately rhymes with duhhh), a Vietnamese noodle soup.

At Asian Express, nestled between Starbucks and Togo’s in the Ross building of the Capitola Mall, various appetizers, entrées and side dishes wait in warming trays at the counter. Choose from a single entrée and side ($4.50), two entrées ($5.49), or three ($6.39).

The chow mein noodles were mixed with vegetables and pieces of omelet. Rice was fried with peas, carrots and eggs. Chili-flecked beef and carrots in a dark sauce were topped with roasted potatoes, and lollipop chicken drumettes were coated with a sweet, caramelized sauce. Two long Fresh Spring Rolls ($2.95) were stuffed with parsley, mint leaves, lettuce, green onions, noodles and a couple of big shrimps.

Asian Express has kicked upthe level of local pho a number of notches. The light-colored house-made beef broth is richly seasoned with tropical spices. Thin pieces of beef top the made-to-order Rare Steak and Beef Balls Noodle Soup ($6.75). Hemispherical meatballs of finely ground beef are also house-made. The Chicken Noodle Soup ($7.25), often prepared with beef broth, is made here with chicken stock.

I ordered the more traditional Asian Beef Noodle Soup ($7.25). Joining the steak and meatballs were strips of roast beef, red and green onions and cilantro. Creamy white prickled curls of tripe were slightly chewy and mildly flavored. The soup was served with a plate of traditional accessories including purple-stemmed Thai basil, fresh lime and bean sprouts. I alternated between Indonesian Srirachi chili sauce, sweet, dark hoisin, and smooth red chili paste on the slurpy chopsticks of noodles. They tell me more pho variations will be offered in the future.

Asian Express, 1955 41st Ave., Ste. A-2, Capitola, 476-9999. Open daily 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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