To those who appreciate the herb-scented cuisine of Vietnam, the little restaurant called Pho Lucky, tucked into an obscure storefront in Redford, is a place to find a good bowl of pho, the beef noodle soup that is the country’s national dish.
But Pho Lucky is much more. It is Cong Nguyen’s tribute to his mother, Quy Tran, and to his son, Luc. Both died in 2011, little Luc from complications of schizencephaly, a congenital disease. When Luc was born, doctors told the family he would only live a few months. He made it much longer than that, almost reaching his sixth birthday. Nguyen was determined to do something to keep their memory alive in a special way.
In the 1990s, Quy Tran ran a little grocery store on Joy Road and she always wanted someone to open a Vietnamese restaurant in a space nearby, then occupied by a pizza place and later by a bakery. “I remember my mother would talk to anyone that would listen, and tried to talk them into opening a Vietnamese restaurant,” says Nguyen. “No one wanted to take a chance, because the restaurant business is such a tough business with long hours and the unpredictability of the influx of customers.”
When his mother died, exactly six months after Luc’s death, Nguyen was driving to her old grocery store, and as he passed the storefront she had had her eye on, he saw that the tenants were loading up a truck and moving out. The space was available.
Nguyen and his business partner, Tran’s godson Tommy Hoang, quickly signed a lease. And in September, Pho Lucky opened its doors to the public. Many in the neighborhood had never had Vietnamese food before. Nor had they tried the strong, chicory-tinged Vietnamese coffee, served hot or iced, similar to New Orleans coffee.
For a new restaurant with a new offering, Nguyen says, business is good.
The menu at Pho Lucky is completely dedicated to the cuisine. Most prominent, of course, is the pho, served in several variations, with either chicken or beef. Pho (pronounced fuh) gets its distinct flavor from broth made with cinnamon, cloves, coriander pods, star anise, fennel seeds, and cardamom.
Pho Lucky offers two mouthwatering appetizers — deep-fried spring rolls, and shrimp-filled summer rolls — and a few entrees. Each listing is accompanied by a picture, making ordering much easier for newcomers.
In the kitchen, behind the scenes of the room decorated with authentic Vietnamese art, you’ll find three of Cong’s cousins. One of their daughters is the head server. (Pho Lucky is very much a family-run affair.) The proprietors made most of the renovations themselves, transforming what had been a pizza parlor into an appealing little corner of Vietnam, unpretentious and real.
It’s a welcome addition to the handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the area, and much more than that to the family that runs it. To them, it keeps the memory of little Luc-ky (as his family called him) alive, as well as that of his grandmother.
23838 Joy Road, Redford, 313-532-2333; pholucky.net.
photographs by cybelle codish