Vietnam, Cambodia, Macau and Hong Kong Trip Report: Lunch at Pho Hoa

Index:

Here’s the ‘real’ Pho Hoa, on Pasteur Street in Saigon (for the uninitiated, central Ho Chi Minh City is still locally referred to as Saigon).

It’s a common name for Pho restaurants abroad, though, such as here and here, though I think the most common name for restaurants in North America serving Vietnamese noodle soup is “Pho [Some Number]” and the number generally corresponds to the year in which the family operating the restaurant emigrated. The best local Pho place in my home city is Pho 75.

On the way down Pasteur Street something told me I should have stayed at the Sheraton again:

I had lunch here on my visit to Ho Chi Minh City in April 2009, and I thought it was fantastic. Contra commenter Mike who declared a year ago “Pho is pho ppl. /facepalm” I actually think good Pho is truly different than its median example.

I don’t claim to be a true connoisseur, enough to claim that this is the best Pho in Ho Chi Minh City but it is very good. It’s an institution, it’s more upscale than many places (expect to spend US$8 all-in on lunch for two), but when I was there it was frequented entirely by locals. On both my visits I was the only obvious foreigner there.

The menu is on the wall in Vietnamese and English.

You can probably get better ingredients at a good Pho restaurant in the U.S. I’m under no illusions otherwise. But what’s really remarkable is the broth and I’ve never experienced the equal of Pho Hoa. So I wanted to return.

One of the things I really like in addition to the broth is the friend bread. You have to request it. They may take the plate full of them off of another table and give it to you, you cannot possibly eat all the bread they give you, and apparently they charge by the piece consumed.

I’m not certain if it’s closer to Singaporean yew char kway or Chinese gio chao quay, or what it’s actually called in Vietnamese — but it’s fantastic and I’ve not found a Vietnamese Pho restaurant in the U.S. that serves it as an accompaniment.

I did also have the eggrolls, though I really was there for soup.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Those egg roles/spring roles look great! What’s missing is the “duck sauce” they use in America. In Hong Kong, it drives me nuts not to have it.

    ED

  2. I think the noodle and the beef quality make their Pho unique and different from the rest. I was there twice and each time I ate 2 large bowls of Pho. In the States, the noodle is not as good as their noodle. I heard they make their fresh noodle instead of taking from supermarket or somewhere else. In the States, I believe they take noodles from those cold bags in supermarkets. Therefore, not so fresh. For the beef, they take directly from their butcher supply place every morning. These two key factors make their noodle special, I would say

  3. The fried bread is usually consumed with Pho in Hanoi. It’s rarely eaten together with Pho in Saigon. Pho Hoa Pasteur is one of very few that offers fried bread, and their broth is very close to what you’ll get in Hanoi. In Hanoi, the Pho is remarkably different than Saigon, the broth is subtle and lighter, no star anise or cinnamon, the noodle is wider and flat. There will be no bean spouts or basil offered in Hanoi Pho, just a squeeze of lime and lots of green onions and cilantro. If you haven’t had Hanoi Pho, there’s one place in San Francisco called Turtle Tower that serves authentic Hanoi Pho, without having to go to Hanoi.

  4. @Gary, actually, the Pho and (#) in restaurants in North America is a phenomenon brought over from the old country, mostly from Saigon. It can be random or meaningful. In Saigon, Pho shop owners differentiate themselves by putting a number after the word Pho. The number can be the house # or alley # or anything that rhymes and bring good luck. So, when they immigrated overseas, they brought the same name with them and advertised as “we used to be Pho # so and so in Saigon”. This tradition continues.

    Also, I disagree about better ingredients at good pho restaurants in the US. IMHO, Even a bowl of pho at any random noodle stall in VN blows away most bowl of pho in the US. This is speaking from experience living in California and visited Vietnam (north & south) more times than I can remembered. The things that make Vietnamese food tastes better in VN are the fresh organic ingredients, meats, vegetables and noodles, which may not always available fresh in the US.

    Anyway, the Pho debate is a matter of life and death to the Vietnamese people (especially north vs. south). So, I’ll say this, a good bowl of Pho is what you say it is, very personal. If you like the pho in your North American/European/Australian/Saigon/Hanoi neighborhoods better than the other pho, then that’s where the best bowl of Pho is. Just enjoy a bowl of goodness the way you like it.

    Next time you are in SF, ping me and I’ll take you to Turtle Tower where they have noodles made fresh daily. 🙂

  5. Gary,
    I honestly wouldn’t have considered eating at one of these places due to food allergies (its hard to avoid BOTH seafood and sesame oil or seeds—S Korea is the worst) but it looks great.

    But, then, I also wouldn’t consider going to see the ping pong ball show in Phuket because of nightmares I’d have for years, not allergies.

  6. @traderprofit – My wife is severely allergic to carrots. Yes, carrots. So when we go to Ireland for 3 weeks or our 4 week ATW trip afterwards she’ll have tone of fun with the food in EU and SE Asia. I feel your pain!

  7. I love Pho noodle soup and Vietnamese spring rolls. I only tried the food in US but I hope that I will get a chance to visit Ho Chi Minh city for authentic Vietnamese food.

  8. Awesome! I went there a year ago.

    I didn’t even know Pho Hoa had the Gary Leff seal of approval 🙂

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