Did I really go to the Texas Gulf Coast to eat pho?–2,500 miles away from Seattle, where you can find a pho restaurant in every square block? Yes, and I’m glad I did. Hu-Dat Oriental Restaurant in Rockport serves a great bowl and tells a distinctively American story as well. (How did I find myself in Rockport?–My brother Ron lives there. That’s him and his friend Silvia under the sign.)
I had the No. 16, pho dac biet. The broth was really flavorful, with an undertone of sweetness; my nephew Beau (a Hu-Dat regular) tells me that they simmer it for over a day. My bowl brimmed with rice noodles, green onion, a bit of chicken, and sliced meatballs, with paper-thin slices of raw beef on the side for us to stir into the hot soup. The accompaniments included shredded cabbage (not the sprouts that I’m used to), basil, lime, and jalapeño pepper. A bit different from pho I’ve eaten in Seattle, but an herby, citrusy, spicy, silky, crunchy, slurpy pleasure!–My serving was huge, and I came close to finishing it.
Hu-Dat’s is a real family restaurant. The owners, the Nguyens, immigrated to the US in 1975 after the fall of Saigon and ended up in Rockport-Fulton, attracted (like many other Vietnamese families) by the chance to continue their traditional livelihood of shrimping. But by 1983, the hostility and racism that the Vietnamese shrimpers were forced to live with (widespread at that time along the whole stretch of the Gulf Coast) finally led them to sell their boat and go into the restaurant business. In 1993, they launched the sandwich shop that soon morphed into Hu-Dat’s.
But times do change. Their son, Dat Nguyen, born in a refugee camp in Arkansas soon after they arrived here, proved to be a stellar young athlete and ended up recruited by Texas A&M as a linebacker. He improbably became a gridiron star, the first Vietnamese to play in the NFL (for the Dallas Cowboys). He has now returned to A&M to coach. There’s a big poster of him in his college hey-day right by the restaurant’s front door.
And here’s our server. In another sign of the changing times, she is also the grandmother of Beau’s sister Kate’s daughter. (Modern families are complicated.) And, since this post has ended up being about families, here’s another piece of mine: Ron and Silvia with my nephew Beau and his friend Molly. Hu-Dat regulars all!
Hu-Dat’s doesn’t have a website yet, but if you end up hungry in Rockport, ask anybody–they’ll know where to send you!