4.5 stars, 30 reviews that’s all I need to know, even if the restaurant was in the industrial district of I-70. Driving down the truck stop lined frontage road, Google maps chirps in saying take a right….
… I pull in to the parking lot past the obvious drug deal, there are only a couple of other cars. In front of me is a concrete slab of a hotel, it screams of broken dreams and lowered expectations. People live in hotels like these for weeks at a time, mostly indigents, drug addicts, and those that hit a rough patch in their lives. I double check the GPS, this is the place, Howard Johnson Hotel / Golden Bowl Pho. I walk up the stairs past the dry fountain outside, inside I am greeted with the scent of stale cigarette smoke. The front-desk is the only place in the hotel lobby with working lights.
I am moving today, somewhat of a biannual tradition for me. Pushing 30 and still blowing in the wind, at least for this move it is not snowing, which is saying something for a late February move in Colorado. I have no time to be selective today, Golden Bowl Restaurant is highly rated and on the way between destinations. Even though it looks like a horror movie set and smells like a dying casino I walk into the door surrounded by cardboard-obscured windows, which I hope it Golden Bowl.
The friendly hostess/ waitress shows me to my booth under the picture windows overlooking the highway passing in front of the Front Range Mountains. I settle into my seat, order a large beef brisket, flank pho and spring rolls. I take a deep breath and look around.
An old man in the corner is the only other patron of this massive restaurant. The cigarette smell is gone, the room is sun filled and clean. The dinning room is a fusion of Americana and traditional East Asian decor. There is an air of optimism and pride lingering in the air. My waitress is prompt with the water refills and accommodating, but not overbearing. Within 10 minutes of ordering the spring rolls arrive.
I inhale the shrimp and pork spring rolls. Full disclosure, I had built up a day’s worth of hunger from moving and cleaning solo. Hunger bias aside, the meal was delicious, the meat is tender and fulfilling. The consistency of the rice paper that holds it all together is the right amount chewy and delicate. Complimented with peanut sauce, I am in heaven, this is a sign of good things are to come.
Almost like clockwork the steaming bowl of pho arrives as I finish the first spring roll. My water glass is filled and I am left to my own device. I rip up the Thai basil, toss in the bean sprouts and squeeze the lime, it is time to dive into the soup.
Pho is pretty much the same anywhere you go. That might sound scandalous coming from a guy that rates pho as a favorite food, it is a finite line the distinguishes good pho from great pho, but Golden Bowl does it right. I sink my fork (yes, I use a fork) into the pool of broth, twist the noodles around the prong, stab a piece of meat. I generously apply the siriracha and hoisin sauce to my helping of the delicious blend of noodles, beef, and sauce. Within minutes, the soup is devoured.
I finish my last glass of water, looking out the window. The snow capped peaks contrast the crystal blue sky, I wonder what is on the other side of the mountains? I think of the possibilities of the future, moving day will do that to you . Snapping back to reality I pay the check, the hostess/waitress and cook cheerfully wish me well on my way out, grins on their faces and fortune cookie in hand. On my way out I stop by the restroom shared with the hotel, all of its lights were off, reminding me of where I really am.
There is something oddly alluring about my experience at Golden Bowl, an unexpected catharsis. Exceptional experiences can be found in unexceptional settings, hope and good food are found in the cracks we just need to know where to look.
There was nothing unique about this particular restaurant, hundreds of quality pho restaurants can be found nationwide, filled with industrious and optimistic owners, employees, and patrons. Golden Bowl is a reminder of the inevitability of change. Roadside entertainment of the automotive era is in decline, hotels like Howard Johnson are emblematic of a bygone era of American history, but the signs of something new are emerging. Golden Bowl and other small, locally owned restaurants are surely examples of this change.
Just like life, businesses come in and out of existence at astounding rates. Optimism, persistence, and gumption are values that have helped people get through the day since the dawn of time. In our daily lives all we can do is keep up, experience the moment and embrace change. Fans of pho in the Wheatridge area should consider stopping by Golden Bowl for quality food. Never had pho? Golden Bowl is a good place for a first time, who knows, it might change the way you see food forever.