Mystery Diner: Pho Royal in Crystal Lake a destination for fresh Vietnamese fare

Crystal Lake’s Phở Royal is the perfect spot for fresh, flavorful Vietnamese food. It was this Mystery Diner’s first time trying Vietnamese cuisine, but it definitely won’t be the last.

I chose to take my meal to go and placed an order on the phone. The food was ready as soon as I walked in, which was much appreciated, and the staff was very accommodating when I ordered a last-minute Vietnamese Iced Coffee.

Because Phở Royal boasts about having “the best phở in Illinois” on its website, I knew I had to try it, so I ordered the Meatball Phở, plus a roast pork bánh mì and an order of spring rolls. Along with their Meatball Phở, they also have a version of the noodle soup with brisket, vegetables, beef, chicken and other options for a variety of palates.

As I left the restaurant after picking up my food, I heard someone walking into the store next to Phở Royal recommend it to their companion, which only made me more excited about my order.

I couldn’t wait to try the Vietnamese Iced Coffee ($5.50) and started drinking it in the parking lot before I took off.

Served with a cup of ice on the side, the drink definitely hit the spot. It was creamy, sweet and refreshing, and would be a good after-dinner palate cleanser.

Once I got home, I tried the spring rolls ($6.99), a popular staple of Vietnamese cuisine. The rolls had a nice, chewy wrap that was filled with shrimp, rice noodles, lettuce and grilled pork, and came with a savory peanut sauce. Light and satisfying but not too filling, they made a tasty appetizer, with a perfect ratio of all the ingredients. The nuttiness of the peanut sauce was not overpowering but instead introduced a nice new flavor into the mix.

A single order of spring rolls comes with two rolls, making it easy to share or save one for later.

Next up was the bánh mì with roasted pork, or Bánh Mì Heo Quay ($7.15), which is a kind of sandwich. However, this isn’t just any sandwich. It was absolutely delicious and, after the coffee, was my favorite part of the meal. The bánh mì's tender pork, carrots and cucumber, along with a slightly sweet, creamy sauce, worked together well to create a fusion of flavors in my mouth. But the real star of the show for me was the golden-brown bread. With a wonderfully crusty outside and soft, pillowy inside, the baguette the sandwich came on put this dish over the top.

Last but not least was the Meatball Phở ($12.95). I was given a huge container of broth, which came with a bowl of meatballs, bean sprouts and other vegetables. I appreciated the broth and other ingredients being put in separate containers, ensuring that nothing became soggy.

The meatballs were sliced up, making them easy to spear with a fork, and they picked up the flavor of the broth well. All the ingredients were fresh, especially the bean sprouts, which were nice and crunchy for an appealing contrast to the soft rice noodles. I received a hearty portion of the soup, which made it perfect for leftovers to look forward to the next day.

Phở Royal comes highly recommended by this Mystery Diner, who hopes to make another trip soon.

• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Northwest Herald. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff when ordering or picking up the food. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.


WHAT: Phở Royal

WHERE: 230 W. Virginia St., Suite 830, Crystal Lake

PHONE: 815-893-6119