4050 Penn Ave
Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Oh Springrolls, how much do I love thee? Let me count the ways: One-onethousand, Two-onethousand, Three-onethousand… These very delicious concoctions are best served up at Tram’s Kitchen on Penn Ave in the soon-to-be-up-and-coming neighborhood of Lawrenceville. This is one restaurant that fits the classical categorization of hole-in-the-wall perfectly: dingy, small, ethnic, cheap, oddly located, and amazingly, authentically delicious. It even has the usual indie following!
On top of all of that, the interestingly translated menu and cranky amputee waiter are charming additions. Tram’s is in a fairly desolate area, but don’t let that stop you if you like Vietnamese food, or if you like cheap food, or if you like good food, because this place has all of those things. It gets pretty busy on some Fridays and Saturdays, so much so that you might have to wait to be seated! But the waiter dude means business. I was there with Reed and friends Steve and Rachel recently, and the place was jammed. However, waiter-dude saw that one 4-top had only 2 people, and the end of a 6-top was without 2 people, so he actually moved already seated individuals, just so we could have the 4-top. It had nothing to do with us being special, or with the moved-customers being unspecial. It was just more efficient! That is what this place is like!
The menu is sort of weirdly translated, so when you order ‘RICE with tomato sauce’ it might not turn out to be what you first imagine (which doesn’t seem like much of a meal), but you can be pretty confident that it will turn out to be tasty. And the dessert menu is just soooo cute. They have a list of ‘various treats’ that includes jelly beans. I can’t imagine that the jelly beans are what I am thinking of either. I hope they are those little jelly things with the lychee bite in them though! If anyone gets a dessert here, please post a comment about what they are like!
You can’t talk about Tram’s without mentioning the spring rolls. If you’ve ever heard of Tram’s, the spring rolls are what you heard about first. They are not fried like most popular spring rolls of today. They are actually better characterized as ‘fresh rolls’. The original is my personal fave, with quality shrimp, vermicelli noodles, giant basil leaves, and some pork and crispy vegetable shreds all rolled up in a thin, soft, chewy, translucent wrapper. They come with a delicious peanut sauce for dipping. They also have other varieties: pork and vegetarian. They are both good, but the original is really really good so I almost always get that flavor.
You can’t go wrong with most of the menu items here. The noodle dishes are good (although the ‘coconut’ noodles have a gloopy coconut topping that may not be what you are expecting, but good nonetheless), as is the seemingly permanent Special of lemongrass curry. The soups are all good, and I have to focus on one in particular, the Pho. Pho is one of those things that is sort of different everywhere you go, and can be done pretty badly (Pad Thai is variable this way too – anywhere from noodles with ketchupy sauce to a sublime tomato-peanut fest). This is why a good Pho stands out when you have one. The absolute best Pho I have ever ever had comes from Tram’s. The reason it is so good is because the broth is wonderful. So often with Pho, the broth is just a vehicle. The mung bean sprouts and chicken hop in, turn the key, and aim for your mouth. But here…its like…a fine sculpture of a vehicle. Someone actually thought about how to flavor the broth to make it tasty. It is not just some chicken stock from a can. Of course, once the bowl gets to your table you do all kinds of stuff to it as well, like squirt in plum sauce and spoon in some red chili stuff, squeeze in a lime and tear up some basil, so it is kind of like an unfinished fine sculpture of a vehicle which you chisel to your own desires. I am also amazed by the chicken that goes into this soup, which is in huge, soft and succulent strips that are pure joy to eat. The chicken is way above and beyond what you normally would get in a soup outside of your grandmother’s kitchen. Tram’s Pho is a well crafted noodle soup.
And so this concludes my little Pho Phiesta for the day. Bottom line is that Tram’s is delicious, and unless you are afraid of a little grime (which is the only reason why the rating is not 10), you should go the next chance you get.
Original Spring Rolls
This place is CASH ONLY. If you are in a pickle, the nearest ATM is just up the street inside the gas station. Reed says that if you are planning ahead, there is a PNC on Butler Street.