Pho Tai at a glance:
LOCATION: 9205 S. Tacoma Way
HOURS: Open till 4 a.m.
BY STEWART BERG
The spacious seating of Pho Tai is largely empty with a few patrons siting at booths and an equal number lying in the booths.
At 3 a.m., an hour before closing, a large group enters and inaudibly points to order two meals of teriyaki each. The simple chicken teriyaki, like all items on the menu, is served in gigantic portions for its price of $6.99. All the menu items are perfectly average in quality, tasting exactly the way one would expect and without even the smallest fraction of individuality from competitors.
The wait staff sits and converses in empty booths, often appearing entirely unaware of patrons, and in taking orders, they tend to be unfriendly and impatient. Most importantly, however, the food is always quick to arrive.
Purely as a restaurant, Pho Tai’s only difference with any other pho restaurant is simply the name above the door. However, the atmosphere that is both produces and is conducive to is what sets it apart.
At 3:30 a.m., a woman comes in smelling of the bar next door, has difficulty sitting in a chair, and almost falls while deciding to sit in a booth instead. This display that would likely be the center of attention in any other restaurant hardly even registers as out of the ordinary at Pho Tai. The charm of Pho Tai is everything but the food.
The bright lights, white floors and walls, and bright green booths immediately make the seating area appear like a hospital cafeteria. The TVs situated around the restaurant regularly and loudly showcase Mexican soccer matches, and their noise supremacy is only ever challenged by the late-night Korean karaoke from next door. A lone TV cycles through a PowerPoint of odd and sometimes completely confusing ads, such as the somewhat risqué photos with speech bubbles added to the women with broken English suggesting all they want is a man to take them to Pho Tai.
This combination of oddities is fully embodied in the perfect experience after midnight. Late at night, when both sides of South Tacoma Way are largely dark, Pho Tai is open, with full menu, until 4 a.m. every day. In the many hours between dark and closing time, Pho Tai can have the feel of a strip club’s added-on café as patrons stumble in covered in extreme guilt and extreme joy. Yet the oddness of the patrons and the oddness restaurant mesh perfectly.
As a restaurant, Pho Tai is ultimately average and likely forgettable as the food tastes exactly like any other pho or teriyaki restaurant. However, the experience alone, especially going after midnight, makes it worth anyone’s late-night time.