Walking through the doors, kitchen heat and fragrant broth drape over me like an áo dài, and suddenly I’m in Vietnam. At Lime and Basil, the tables are sparse and the restaurant is tiny, but the bowls of phở are prodigious.
It was the night of the UNC-Louisville basketball game the second time I went to Lime and Basil. I knew what I was ordering days before I walked in. My friend and I talked about returning to Lime and Basil for a long time, and I was dreaming about the tofu phở with vegetable broth.
The service is quick and the atmosphere is intimate. Families, couples and friends hovered over their deep, steaming bowls and lively conversations. But phở isn’t the only thing on the menu. The diverse menu boasts Vietnamese classics, like bánh mì and gỏi cuốn, as well as other eastern and southern Asian influences, like boba tea with tapioca pearls and various curry dishes.
Most of the menu is customizable depending on your preferences, which is great for people with specific diets (vegetarians, rejoice!). For the phở in particular, you can choose from six different beef cuts to create your own perfect bowl, or select one of Lime and Basil’s seven beef combinations. There are two chicken broth phởs, served with white or dark meat chicken or a medley of seafood. The menu also boasts three vegetarian broth dishes with the options of tofu, mixed vegetables or soy chicken. Each phở comes with garnishes of lime, cilantro, jalapeño, mung bean sprouts and Thai basil. There are also plenty of garnishes on the table, like soy sauce, chili sauce and Sriracha, if you need to adjust the heat/salt level in the broth.
But the highlight of any good phở (besides the broth) is the noodles, and Lime and Basil does noodles well. Phở, by definition, is a noodle soup. The rice noodles, bánh phở, should be silky with a bit of a bite, similar to the consistency of ramen noodles (but so much better).
I added all of the garnishes to my phở, plus lots of Sriracha and chili sauce. When the sauce melted into the phở, it flecked it with red pepper flakes, giving a hint of heat to every bite. As hungry as we were, my friend and I still couldn’t finish our huge bowls in time for the basketball game. But with the delicious, warm phở in our bellies, we made our way over to the Dean Dome to cheer on the Tar Heels in a great win.
Next time, I really want to try the spring rolls, but I’ll have to be prepared to roll myself down Franklin Street afterward. Trust me, phở is more filling than it looks.
LIME & BASIL: 200 W Franklin St #130, Chapel Hill, NC 27516, (919) 967-5055, limeandbasil.com. Dinner: Mon – Sat 5:00 – 9:30 PM; Lunch: Mon – Fri 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM. Closed Sunday. $$. Credit cards accepted.