Pho everyone

(First published in the June 27, 2019 issue of City Pages)

After some opening hiccups, Hlee Lee’s Pho Zone restaurant in the mall is introducing everyone to the delicious dish called pho


Hlee Lee, owner of Icy Yummy, started Pho Zone in the Wausau Center mall.

The first weeks of business for Pho Zone were eye-opening for owner Hlee Lee and her husband Lue Lee. Despite the fact that pho, the popular Vietnamese noodle soup (pronounced fuh), has been around Wausau for a while at other restaurants, she was surprised at how many people hadn’t yet heard of it. “My insurance agent had never heard of it, the health inspector hadn’t heard of it,” Lee says. “Are you serious?”

With Pho Zone, spanning two storefronts in the Wausau Center mall, Lee hopes to change that. The Pho Zone officially opened June 1. But after getting slammed that weekend with customers and stymied by some equipment malfunctions, they had to close for a week. They also had staffing problems.

But Pho Zone is up and running now, reopening on June 8 with a slightly different focus. For now, Pho Zone is focused on serving pho and banh mi sandwiches—both are Lee’s specialties.

Banh mi is a Vietnamese toasted sandwich usually served with a meat base and a topping of shredded carrots, cucumbers and other veggies. Lee, who also for several years has run the Icy Yummy  ice cream station in the mall, saw an opportunity for banh mi when Subway closed in 2017. “Subway left and they left all their stuff,” Lee says. “I thought, ‘That’s a great opportunity!’ It’s like an Asian Subway.”

They’re also using the adjacent spot that once housed Downtown Grocery’s temporary deli location. Once upon a time, this was Diamond Dave’s restaurant.

The banh mi sandwiches are a great takeout item, but the pho is meant to be eaten on site and isn’t available for take out. Pho should be eaten fresh, before the noodles become mushy.

Pho Zone is the first mall-based restaurant since Diamond Dave’s many years ago to have its own dining area. A low wall, its own dark wood flooring and restaurant quality tables separates Pho Zone from the common area. They’ll eventually will serve other dishes, like Pad Thai or vermicelli cold salad. For now pho is the focus. One customer has been spending $20 a day on pho, Lee says. “I’m glad a lot of people are trying it.”

Pho Zone is open Monday through Saturday 11 am-7:30 pm, and Sunday 11-5:30. 715-301-3079. Also find updates on their Facebook page.