HERE at the News, we were dejected when we learned Maggie's Deli on 14th Street would be closing.
Many of us had come to rely on the deli's doorstopper-sized sandwiches stacked with sliced meat and crunchy veggies as our fallback position for a last-minute lunch.
But late last year, close it did, and according to posted notices the deli was to be replaced by Pho Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant.
Out of loyalty to my old lunch spot, I avoided it for . . . oh, a few weeks after opening. Eventually my professional curiosity (and my excitement at having banh mi so close by) overtook my indignity and I ambled down the lane from my office for lunch.
Turns out my face likes having a nose after all. The little storefront looks good. The long, awkward deli counter is gone, leaving room for a tidy arrangement of tables.
I was surprised by the biggest newsflash: Maggie's Delicatessen Cafe is not gone. Instead, it's in a partnership. Staff from Maggie's take over in the morning, dishing up hefty breakfasts and making those sandwiches to order. Starting at lunchtime though, Pho Saigon takes over the kitchen until after the dinner hour.
In the six weeks since I started eating lunch there, I've developed an addiction to the pho (pronounced "fuh" for those who care if they're saying it correctly).
I can't explain it. I'll be checking pages for errant apostrophes or awkward typos when it hits: a deep, primal craving for the multi-layered flavours and textures of that beef noodle soup.
The recipe for pho varies, of course, depends on who's making it. It's always more than a simple beef broth; the richness can come from spices and seasoning like anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and fish sauce.
Pho Saigon's version ($7.95) has exceptional depth of flavour. It's served steaming, so that any cuts of meat - eye round steak, flank, beef balls or brisket - continue to cook in the soup. Underneath the surface, an enormous twist of glassy rice noodles waits to be tackled, and alongside comes a plate of super fresh and crisp bean sprouts, Thai basil, jalapeno slices and a chunk of lime, not to mention the dish of Sriracha chili sauce for adding heat, if that's how you like it.
Even the small bowl makes for an enormous, yet healthy, lunch. Lighter appetites love the salad rolls ($5.95 for two): zaftig shrimp, juicy chicken or veggies laid atop a sheaf of lettuce, swaddled snugly in a delicate rice wrapper and sided by savoury peanut dipping sauce.
My final go-to, the one that drew me into Pho Saigon in the first place, is the Vietnamese Sandwich, or Banh mi.
The baguette was introduced to Vietnam by the French during the country's colonial period, and it's the contrast of dense, crackly-crusted bun to luscious, Vietnamese fillings that makes them so good. On Pho Saigon's banh mi roster are versions with beef teriyaki, chicken, pork brochettes and cold cuts. All of them are topped with liver pate, homemade mayo, carrot, green onion, cucumber and fresh cilantro. So good, and so cheap: the subs are just $4.25, and for $1, you can add a pop.
There's still plenty on this menu for me to explore, including vermicelli and rice dishes. Perhaps if I hadn't waited so long to visit I would have more to tell you about now, but obviously, I'll be making a return.
See you there.
Pho Saigon is at 128 East 14th St., North Vancouver. Call 604-988-3687 for information or take-out.