In late 2008, an old Target store in west Mesa, approximately a quarter mile from the Sycamore / Main light rail station, was reborn as Mekong Plaza, a shopping center targeting the large southeast Asian community along the Dobson Corridor. In the years since, a lot has changed in the restaurant lineup there. After a few false starts and some turnover in tenants, the food court has settled into a steady, bustling state. There have been at least two iterations each of bakeries, bahn mi shops, and boba tea purveyors within the center’s walls.
Despite all the change around the edges of Mekong Plaza, the shopping center’s two core restaurant spaces near the main entrance to the supermarket have been stable for the duration. One of those slots is occupied by unPhogettable, a name that suggests the menu’s signature dish: Vietnamese rice noodle soup, or pho. Even as adventurous diners have begun to appreciate regional Vietnamese cuisine beyond pho, the restaurant’s accessible menu and highly visible location continue to make it an obvious place to start exploring Mekong Plaza.
The restaurant has two entrances, one facing the parking lot and the other facing the interior of the shopping center right by the supermarket entrance. Both entries lead to small, neat dining room. It’s not upscale, but it’s not shabby either. There are some interesting prints on the walls, high ceilings above, and stylish light fixtures descending toward the tables. Long tables can be configured for groups of varied sizes. A bike rack is located right outside and is often full, but additional racks are situated toward the north end of the shopping center.
Many meals at unPhogettable start with rolls. As at most Vietnamese restaurants, there’s a choice between crisp cha gio, the Vietnamese version of egg rolls, and fresh goi cuon, a lighter choice that is served cold and not fried. UnPhogettable actually offers four types named for the seasons. The spring rolls contain the customary shrimp and pork combination. The summer and autumn models both feature slices of sausage made on the premises with the latter adding slivers of jicama. The winter rolls are filled with julienned pork.
Obviously, big bowls of soup play a lead role here. There are 16 varieties of pho, ranging from straightforward models with brisket, meatballs, or chicken to everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soups combining multiple cuts of beef with tripe and tendon. A meatless (although not vegetarian due to the beef broth) pho comes with tofu and a generous assortment of vegetables. Other types of soup include mi, with egg noodles instead of the more familiar rice variety, and an impressive range of regional specialty soups, many incorporating seafood.
Most of these soups begin as specials called out on a white board near the restaurant’s interior entrance and then later become memorialized as permanent offerings on the printed menu. My viet tiem combines egg noodles with a roasted duck leg, bok choy, and a few shiitake mushrooms. Mi hoahn thanh come closest to a Chinese soup with egg noodles, wontons stuffed with ground meat, shrimp balls, and a few slivers of barbecued pork. Bun rieu uses noodles closer to angel hair with shrimp, crab, egg, tofu, and bits of tomato.
All soups come with a plate of garnishes, most often bean sprouts, cilantro, jalapenos, and lime wedges, but with some variation for different soup types. The usual lineup of sauces — sriracha, chili with garlic, and hoisin – grace every table. While these condiments are standard issue at every pho joint in town, what’s unique at unPhogettable is the role of Chan, the proprietor. He gently discourages throwing every last item into the soup bowl. Instead, he offers guidance about adding herbs judiciously and using optimal mixes of sauces for dipping.
While noodle soups dominate the menu, there are some drier entree options, including a dozen bun, or rice vermicelli, dishes and another dozen rice dishes with grilled meats. As with the rolls, unPhogettable uses sausage to make some of these distinctive. While the restaurant offers bun tom nuong with familiar grilled shrimp, it also provides the option of bun chao tom, in which whole prawns are replaced with slices of shrimp sausage. All these dishes come with lettuce, sliced cucumbers, pickled vegetables, and the ubiquitous fish sauce.
Beverages are limited to the non-alcoholic variety. The fresh squeezed orange juice and the soda chanh, club soda with lime and ice, are refreshing accompaniments to the soups and grilled foods. Fountain sodas, jasmine tea, and bottled water are also available. The desserts are all of the type come in a glass – red beans with coconut milk, tropical fruits with Jello, etc. They’re all relatively light, satisfying, and a good end to a flavor-intense meal. If those are not appealing, walk down the halls of Mekong Plaza for pastry, boba tea, or flavored ice.
UnPhogettable is operated by a family that fled Vietnam in the late ‘70s and now runs restaurants at Mekong Plaza and at a newer location in Chandler. Family is an important concept here because the restaurant does a nice job of catering to young customers with miniature bowls of pho. While many of the surrounding restaurants in Mekong Plaza have changed menus and identities since 2008, unPhogettable has maintained and improved upon its original approach, providing a bit of continuity in an evolving shopping center.
66 S. Dobson Rd. #138, Mesa AZ 85202