The misleadingly labeled small bowls of pho, $7, contain a generous portion of noodles, meats and broth. It's served with a plate of fresh bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, lime and fresh cilantro and Vietnamese basil for patrons to add according to personal preference.
Bottles of hoisin sauce and potent chili sauce and paste also sit on each table. Warning to first-time diners: a drop or two of chili sauce goes a long way.
The larger version of pho, $8, would stymie a normal appetite, but Luu said a local strong man eats six bowls when he comes. A mother and her young son shared a bowl of pho during a recent lunch. She portioned out his serving before adding chili paste to her bowl.
Some patrons used chopsticks to pull the noodles and fillings out of the deep bowls, while others used soup spoons. Nearly every diner found it difficult to avoid slurping the long noodles. They just leaned into the bowl and hoped to avoid spotting the fronts of their shirts.
Luu's family is Vietnamese, but he was raised in Singapore. He moved to California when he was 18 to attend college. He graduated in nursing, but decided he didn't like the work. He left his position in a nursing home and went to work in a restaurant.
He spent a few years washing dishes and cleaning before he was promoted to cook. He joined his family in Atlanta, where he opened a restaurant with partners.
When he wanted to open a restaurant on his own, he chose West Virginia after visiting friends who live here. He purchased Pho Vinh Long from the previous owner two and a half years ago.
Yen's owner was out of town and unavailable for comment when this article was written. Yen's opened in October, employees said.
The restaurants also offer bubble teas, which are fruit and smoothie concoctions in which large tapioca "bubbles" float, providing an interesting texture when sipped through the extra-wide straws.
Pink shrimp show through the translucent rice wrappers surrounding springs rolls, which also contain shredded lettuce, thinly sliced pork loin and rice noodles. A dunk in thick peanut sauce kicks up the rolls' flavor at Pho Vinh Long.
Both Pho Vinh Long and Yen's do a brisk lunch business, getting patrons served and on their way quickly to accommodate tight work schedules. In the evening, larger groups of families and friends stop by Pho Vinh Long for a more leisurely experience.
Pho Vinh Long, 601 D St., is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Call 304-720-7333. Yen's Sandwiches, 606 D St., is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Call 681-205-8442.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.