Velocity-encoded phase-contrast MRI of cardiovascular blood flow commonly relies on electrocardiogram-synchronized cine acquisitions of multiple heartbeats to quantitatively determine the flow of an averaged cardiac cycle. Here, we present a new method for real-time phase-contrast MRI that combines flow-encoding gradients with highly undersampled radial fast low-angle shot acquisitions and phase-sensitive image reconstructions by regularized nonlinear inversion. Apart from calibration studies using steady and pulsatile flow, preliminary in vivo applications focused on through-plane flow in the ascending aorta of healthy subjects. With bipolar velocity-encoding gradients of alternating polarity that overlap the slice-refocusing gradient, the method yields flow-encoded images with an in-plane resolution of 1.8 mm, section thickness of 6 mm and measuring time at 3 T of 24 ms (TR/TE = 3.44/2.76 ms; flip angle, 10º; seven radial spokes per image). Accordingly, phase-contrast maps and corresponding velocity profiles achieve a temporal resolution of 48 ms. The evaluated peak velocities, stroke volumes, flow rates and respective variances over at least 20 consecutive heartbeats are in general agreement with literature data. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.