A bowl of beef pho (noodle soup) at Pho 34...

A bowl of beef pho (noodle soup) at Pho 34 in Levittown. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

First of all, it’s pronounced "fuh." Second, "Vietnamese noodle soup" doesn’t begin to express the complexity and splendor of this dish. Third, if you’re anywhere near Levittown, you should stop reading this and get to Pho 34, tucked away in a strip mall on Hempstead Turnpike.

Owners Tony Nguyen, the chef, and Casey Koehl named their two-month-old restaurant after pho because, they thought, it was the most well-known dish in the Vietnamese repertoire. But Nguyen also makes banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches, bun (grilled meats over rice vermicelli), fried rice and street foods such as summer rolls (meats and vegetables rolled in rice paper) and fried spring rolls.

But pho stands supreme. The dish probably originated in North Vietnam around the beginning of the 20th century, but it really took off when the country was partitioned in 1954 and more than a million North Vietnamese fled to South Vietnam. There the dish became lighter and sweeter and more herbaceous — Northern cuisine tends to be richer and spicier.

Nguyen’s broth is a daylong process of simmering beef bones until the marrow melts into the liquid. Charred onions and ginger are added, then whole briskets and flanks and, finally, a proprietary mix of spices that he makes up ahead of time and stores in zip-top bags — one bag for each 30-liter batch of broth.

Once a bowl of pho is ordered, everything speeds up: Nguyen briefly boils a fist-sized knot of snow-white rice noodles until they are pliable, shakes them dry, then places them in the bottom of a big, white bowl. On top of the noodles he tiles layers of thinly sliced brisket, flank steak and barely cooked eye round, onions and scallions. Lovingly he ladles on the broth and your pho is almost ready to eat.

Almost. Because, as with many Vietnamese dishes, the diner finishes the dish at the table, selecting garnishes from a plate heaped with basil, lime, jalapeños and bean sprouts. The final product is hauntingly aromatic, restorative and warming.

Having your pho to go? Someone will pack up the noodles, meat, broth and garnishes separately so that flavors and textures do not get compromised on the ride home.

Pho 34 is at 3948 Hempstead Tpke., Levittown, 516-934-0180. See the menu on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

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