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Hot Pot and Pho offers a taste of Vietnamese traditions

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

When Thuy Pham was growing up in Vietnam, holidays and special occasions were marked by a celebratory meal called hot pot. 

Her mother simmered a stock featuring meats and vegetables all day, gradually reducing it to a broth. The broth was then brought to a boil on a burner at the table, where family members added a variety of proteins, noodles and vegetables. 

Laughter and conversation ensued as they waited to scoop the savory soup into their bowls. 

“It was a special tradition,” Pham said.

Now, thanks to Pham, local foodies don’t have to wait for a holiday to enjoy this traditional meal. Pham opened Hot Pot and Pho in Spokane Valley in December at the site of the former Peking Palace. 

She’s long wanted to offer this experience to Pacific Northwest diners, and her partnership with general manager Brian Naccarato paved the way for the experienced restaurateur to fulfill her dream.

Naccarato was a frequent customer at Pham’s Mongolian BBQ, just east of Hot Pot on Sprague. Last year, when he moved back to Spokane from San Diego, the restaurant was one of his first stops.

“I’ve known Thuy for 18 years,” he said. “I love her story. She came here from Vietnam in 2001 with $690 and this is the fourth restaurant she’s opened.”

He’s spent his career in business finance and gave himself a month to reacclimate to the area before starting a new job.

When Pham shared the struggles she was experiencing in opening Hot Pot and Pho, Naccarato offered to spend his month off helping.

“I’ve never had so much fun in my life,” he said.

He thought about that on the first day of his new job. Then he got a phone call from Pham.

“She said, ‘I can’t do this without you, Brian,’ ” he recalled.

He met her that night, and they hammered out the details. That was Nov. 1, and he hasn’t looked back.

Folks who frequented the Peking Palace will be amazed by the transformation.

The red paint and ornate chandeliers have been replaced with muted grays and contemporary lighting. Family photos from Vietnam line the walls. In keeping with the family theme, Naccarato’s aunt, Sharon Kyle, created traditional Vietnamese floral arrangements for the restaurant.

But the scene stealers are the 10 hot pot tables. The tables feature inset heated basins for the broth. Some tables have one large pot in the middle, which can be divided in half to accommodate two different broths, while others have four smaller pots. The pots are heated on induction surfaces, which only become hot when the pots are inserted. Each table has a control panel customers use to cook their meals.

The hot pot tables have proved popular, so reservations are strongly encouraged – especially on weekends.

Diners have the option of choosing from three broths: clear, spicy, or hot and sour. They then select a protein such as beef, lamb, chicken or seafood mix, and opt for either ramen or rice noodles. The meal also includes a selection of fresh vegetables.

Naccarato isn’t the only Brian on staff. A robot named after him delivers trays of food, and a server places them on the table and explains the hot pot process.

“Kids love the robot,” Naccarato said.

Of course, hot pot isn’t the only offering on the menu. Pham’s pho is also a big seller.

“I could eat pho all day,” she said, smiling.

Naccarato says high-end ingredients set their food apart.

“We serve prime rib beef – it’s like pho on steroids,” he said.

In addition, almost everything is made in-house, from the peanut sauce to the barbecued pork to Rangoons.

“I use my mother’s recipe for the spring rolls,” Pham said.

Bahn Mi also offers another taste of home.

“I ate Bahn Mi every day for school lunch,” she said. “They had pork or ham and pickled veggies.”

Planned menu additions feature fried rice – including filet mignon fried rice.

“Fried rice is what we ate every day in Vietnam,” Pham said.

Larger hot pot tables are also in the works. Currently, they can only accommodate five per table.

Fun plans are in store for the revamped lounge.

“We’re having a lounge launch with live music karaoke on April 27,” Naccarato said. 

He and Pham are delighted by the response to the area’s only hot pot spot. By 11:30 on a recent weekday morning, a line had already formed at the door.

The dining experience offers a unique way to connect through food.

“I had a customer tell me it was the first time he could get his kids off their phones,” Naccarato said.

That kind of feedback encourages the hardworking Pham.

“When customers respond that they like it,” Pham said of the food, “it makes my day.”  

Contact Cindy Hval at