Located just off The Square on North LBJ Drive, Pho Tran88 is serving up traditional Vietnamese dishes at a price suitable for a college budget. Upon walking in, customers are greeted with modern decor and a friendly staff ready to cater to their cravings.
Family-owned and operated, Pho Tran88's staff is tight-knit — made up of the restaurant's owners, Dao and Steven Tran, their relatives and employees who have worked for the family for many years. Dao Tran’s older sister, Cathey Tran, works as a server, and the couple's six-year-old son, William, is frequently found running around the dining area.
"This is a family-run business; we see everyone as family here," Dao Tran says. "We try to be a more family-oriented restaurant."
Lorrain Doromal, a biochemistry sophomore, has worked for the Trans for two years alongside her twin sister. She says her relationship with Dao Tran goes beyond a boss-employee relationship. Doromal feels as if she can go to Dao Tran for anything, from financial advice to everyday struggles.
“I love my boss-lady because she watches out for us,” Doromal says. “If I’m not seeing anything right with my life she will be like, ‘Hey, I think you should do this,’ and it helps me a lot. She’s usually right there to back me up.”
Dao and Steven Tran originally came to Central Texas to work in a Chinese restaurant operated by Steven Tran’s family and then worked at Pho NB, a restaurant operated by Dao Tran’s family.
Throughout this time, they had wishes of opening up their own restaurant. After not knowing of any Vietnamese restaurants in the area, they found their place and secured a location. For two months, they worked to set up shop and officially opened the doors of Pho Tran88 on April 22.
Before opening the restaurant, the Trans did not know much about San Marcos. Dao Tran had only come to the city to shop at the outlet mall and had never even been downtown. Now that she is in the San Marcos bubble and surrounded by the community, she says she was surprised to find that the community is much different than nearby New Braunfels.
“I really like San Marcos a lot,” Dao Tran says. “The people are more diverse here; they are willing to try all the different things. We were really surprised, it’s really totally different [from New Braunfels].”
Much like her sister, server Cathey Tran did not have much experience with San Marcos before Pho Tran88 opened, but says the community has been welcoming — especially the students. She says approximately 70% of customers are students.
“I actually like it. At first I wasn’t really sure because it’s a new city and everything, but I actually like this location here,” Cathey Tran says. “I like [San Marcos], it’s more easy-going and a little bit more relaxed. All the students and all the customers have been great.”
The name Pho Tran88 comes from "pho", a Vietnamese noodle soup, "Tran", the family name and "88", a Vietnamese lucky number to promote prosperity.
The restaurant’s signature dish, pho, consists of rice noodles in seasoned bone broth, served with herbs and a choice of meat. In addition to pho, the restaurant has a large menu that includes Vietnamese sandwiches, vermicelli noodle bowls, rice plates and stir-fried noodle bowls. There are also several Chinese dishes on the menu. The beverage menu features soft drinks plus a selection of specialty drinks including Vietnamese coffee and Thai tea.
Dao Tran says the curried goat and duck are two of the restaurant's more unique dishes and customer favorites. She says Vietnamese cooking differs from other forms of Asian cuisine due to the “freshness” of the ingredients and the diversity of the flavors.
Dao Tran put the menu together based on recipes passed down from her grandmother and mother, who learned the recipes in Vietnam. Dao Tran’s mother also taught Steven Tran how to cook.
“Vietnamese food is more fresh,” Dao Tran says. “It has more flavors; that’s what I think. Plus, pho is easy to eat, too. Everything is fresh.”
Freshness and family go hand-in-hand at Pho Tran88. The entire Pho Tran88 staff treat each other as kin, which translates into their customer service and the care that goes into preparing the food.
“I like working with family,” Dao Tran says. “We like to treat everyone like family because it makes everyone comfortable. Most of our workers work for us for a long time; it’s not like they work and they just go. We try to treat everyone like family, so they can be happy while they work.”
For more information on Pho Tran88 and to view the restaurant's menu, visit its Facebook page.