Paul Nguyen decided to go indie, trading in a Pho Hoa franchise for his own fledgling chain called Pho Ta, partly so he could expand his menu beyond the brothy pho bowls and broken-rice grilled-meat platters already standard among South Philly's many Viet soup halls.

The hearty beef stew called pho bò kho may be one of the best new additions - and a unique dish that distinguishes this modest but bustling noodle nook. A nod to the French colonial influence on Vietnam's cuisine, pho bò kho is essentially boeuf bourguignon with a Southeast Asian twist.

Meaty beef shins are even marinated in red wine before they're slow-braised with carrots, though the broth is turned exotic with lemongrass, five-spice, and curry.

Presented over noodles with cilantro and vinegared onions, the Western theme veers East, as Vietnamese customers add a helping of snappy beef tendons, tripe, and other goodies to their stew, an acquired taste of added texture and richness I've started to appreciate. But for newcomers to this satisfying meal in a bowl, "just meat," says Nguyen, is a request his crew will happily oblige.

Pho bò kho, $7.25, Pho Ta, 1111 S. 11th St., 215-755-4000;

- Craig LaBan