Shoptalk: Pho Tau Bay_lowres

Pho Tau Bay's special flavors come from the Takacs family: (L-R) Tuyet, Karl and Karl Jr.

Though Pho Tau Bay (113 C Westbank Expwy., Gretna, 368-9846) literally translates as "Airplane Soup," the preparation for the popular restaurant's eponymous dish, pho, is anything but jet-speed.

  "[Making the broth] takes about eight hours," says Karl Takacs Jr., co-owner, manager and reigning "King of Pho." "It's a labor of love."

  The love is reciprocated by customers who come from all over the New Orleans area to feast on pho and other dishes. Many of them have been regulars since the restaurant's original Gretna location opened in 1981. Homemade sauces, affordable prices, fresh ingredients and the sparkling interplay of sweet, sour and spicy flavors characteristic of Vietnamese cuisine have made Pho Tau Bay a venerated landmark.

  "I just keep coming back," says Andres Clark, a cab driver who dines daily at Pho Tau Bay. "It's family-owned and everything's made from scratch."

  Takacs recommends pho, a beef and noodle soup, and spring rolls, which consist of shrimp, pork, cilantro, bean sprouts and rice noodles swaddled in translucent rice paper and served with peanut sauce. Vegetarians have a wide range of options, including banh mi (Vietnamese po-boys) made with tofu.

  Since four of the five Pho Tau Bay locations were shuttered post-Katrina, Orleans Parish pho fiends have had to cross the Mississippi River to get their fix. Takacs hints at the possibility of a New Orleans location in the near future.

  "I don't know when, and I don't know where," he says, "but something's definitely brewing."