Pho Rio, Del Rio’s only, and very cleverly named Vietnamese restaurant, appears to be beating the odds in the city’s nearly vacant, dying downtown strip at the corner of Main Street and Broadway.
“We’re doing ok”, said Todd, the co-manager and waiter at the family-owned restaurant when I asked how business was going. “We’re the fifth restaurant to occupy this building, all the others closed down”, referring to previous restaurants that have occupied the same floorspace – El Antro, Las Playas, Prima Pasta, and The Herald Martini Bar. Nonetheless, Pho Rio is thinking optimistically about a future increase in business.
My wife and I first started dining at Pho Rio – once a month or so – shortly after it opened last summer. The menu isn’t overwhelming, nor expensive, but offers a wide variety of Vietnamese soups (pho), rice-and-noodle plates, and plenty of stir-fry and curry dishes- both for dine-in and to-go. They offer a few different appetizers – spring rolls, won-tons, and so forth – currently on a buy-one, get one half off deal. For beverages, my wife’s “usual” drink, boba tea, is also on the menu. We generally walk out the door stuffed for under $35 – including a good tip and a to-go box with leftovers for lunch the next day.
“People like our food!” exclaimed Todd. He wasn’t kidding – both Google Reviews and Facebook users rated the newly-established eatery with 4.9 and 5.0 stars, respectively. “I think it will just take time to grow,” he said as he began clearing our booth table after we had finished eating. “I would like to change the look of the place a little bit, make it more attractive.” The floorplan hasn’t changed from its previous tenants, but still boasts comfortable seating, high ceilings, and a wide-open, relaxing atmosphere.
“Some days, we have good business,” stated Todd, “other days, it’s very slow”. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday from 10AM to 9PM, Todd said that they need to see a consistent flow of about 100 customers per day to stay open – and some days they can’t reach that. “After about 7PM, you look both ways down [Main Street] and there is no one around,” said Todd.
He cites the nearby railroad tracks near the Del Rio Amtrak station, just a couple blocks away, for poor traffic flow. There’s no overpass at the Main Street railroad crossing, which can often drive the main flow of traffic over the Veterans Boulevard railroad bridge south to Garfield Street – completely bypassing the restaurant, which sits directly across from the Val Verde County Judicial Center.
Admittedly, even I rarely transit this part of town via Main Street unless I have a reason to, but rather via Veterans’ Boulevard to Garfield, simply because of wider streets, less congestion, and more favorable traffic signals.
Downtown Del Rio has started becoming even more of a ghost town in recent months, especially with the closing of The Emporium. Looking back at vintage images from the Del Rio downtown, with the streets lined with vehicles and small business open along the entire several blocks of Main Street extending from the railroad tracks south to Strickland Street, shows a stark contrast now to the series of boarded-up, run down buildings and empty streets that appear to continually wither as much of the local traffic now bypasses downtown along Gibbs Street, Veterans Boulevard, Dr. Fermin Calderon Boulevard, and Bedell Avenue. No doubt, Pho Rio faces an uphill battle for business that it would otherwise not encounter if positioned along one of these busy thoroughfares.
“A lot of people know about us,” Todd said, “but they still don’t try our food.” From my observation, it’s not because of a lack of good reviews, but more likely because it’s simply positioned between narrow and easily congested streets that offer little up-front parking (although we always park across the street in the courthouse parking lot). “We need more frequent customers to bring their friends,” he said.
Despite the odds against Pho Rio in their current location, Todd remains hopeful. “Operating a restaurant is like gambling,” he remarked, “except for in gambling, you lose money fast, but in operating a restaurant, you at least have a chance. I don’t want to shut down or leave [Del Rio], especially when everyone loves our food.”
Read the reviews yourself. Pho Rio is one of the few Asian food restaurants in Del Rio- family-owned and operated, home-style cooking, affordable, and very filling, and is complimented by a great atmosphere and friendly staff offering great service. Try it yourself, enjoy it, and let them know you read about them here!
Dan Schreiber is an operational meteorologist, with experience