FUUD: Your favorite pho

The other day I had lunch with HAWAII Magazine editor Derek Paiva and the acclaimed food critic (and Scorpio) John Heckathorn.

They took me to their favorite Vietnamese restaurant that they said served the best pho around.

I love pho. And I trust Derek and John. There was no convincing me to go.

So we headed to Saigon Restaurant Vietnamese in Chinatown for what they say is the best bowl of pho they’ve ever had. (Or something to that effect.)

I had been to several restaurants in Chinatown, all claiming to have the best pho. I hadn’t tried the one at Saigon, but after experiencing some mediocre bowls in downtown, I didn’t have the highest of expectations.

But I have to say, this was one good bowl of pho.

Like most restaurants, the pho here was served with the traditional white rice noodles — that weren’t soggy — in a clear beef broth. The broth is typically made by simmering beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onions and spices (including star anise) for hours.

What makes the dish — and it’s probably the same for ramen and saimin — is the broth. It has to have strong flavors that aren’t overpowering. It can’t be too oily or salty. It has to be perfect, allowing the flavors of the other ingredients — raw meat, tripe, meatballs, rice noodles, fresh basil leaves, cilantro, bean sprouts — to peek through.

And it did.

A friend of mine asked me why I like pho so much — and whether I’d choose pho over, say, ramen.

That’s a tough one.

Sometimes I prefer pho over ramen — which I love — because the broth is cleaner the flavors crisper. But ramen is a hard dish to beat, with its robust and flavorful dashi and noodles that melt in your mouth.

But there’s something refreshing about a bowl of pho. As one blogger wrote, “Take liquid soul from Heaven itself, add rice noodles and raw flank steak strips … and put it in a bowl.” That’s pho.

I’m always looking for the best bowl of pho. I posed the question to my Twitter friends — a great bunch of foodies — and got various suggestions from To Chau Restaurant on River Street to Pho 97 on Maunakea Street to Hale Vietnam in Kaimuki.

I don’t think I’ve found it yet — but I’m willing to keeping looking!

Got a favorite pho? Share it here. Maybe your suggestions will turn into a future blog post devoted to one of my favorite wintertime meals.

Saigon Restaurant Vietnamese,, 164 N. King St. Phone: 808-599-1866.

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24 Responses to “FUUD: Your favorite pho”

  1. hilorain December 16, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    Hi Cat,

    Spouse and have not tried all the ones mentioned in your article, but until we do, our favorite is/has been the one in the Chinese Cultural Plaza facing Maunakea Street. Name is Huong Lan at 100 N. Beretania St.

    Have to agree that the key is in the soup base, and beyond that it is individual taste, so another person may not agree with our choice.

    In a sense, I would hope that the masses don’t agree with our favorite as it might, then, flood the place and we will never be able to get close to it again.

    hilorain

  2. hilorain December 16, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    Hi Cat,

    Spouse and have not tried all the ones mentioned in your article, but until we do, our favorite is/has been the one in the Chinese Cultural Plaza facing Maunakea Street. Name is Huong Lan at 100 N. Beretania St.

    Have to agree that the key is in the soup base, and beyond that it is individual taste, so another person may not agree with our choice.

    In a sense, I would hope that the masses don’t agree with our favorite as it might, then, flood the place and we will never be able to get close to it again.

    hilorain

    • Cat December 20, 2010 at 6:10 am #

      @hilorainhilorain. That’s the thing… giving away your favorite hidden spots is always tricky. On the one hand, you want to share your find with everyone. But on the other hand, you don’t want anyone to know about it, either. Very paradoxical!

  3. M December 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Hello Cat! These are the places we go Hale Vietman Pho1 Pho Saigon

  4. russkar December 16, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    Pho Thinh on King

  5. MoOgooGuypAN December 16, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    I agree that Pho is more a refreshing dish with all the basil and fresh veggies. Now for the best Pho I’ve tried…(drumroll)…Pho and Co. in Kapolei! I’ve tried a variety of Pho places from Kaimuki to Kapolei and the best so far is Pho and Co. The amount they serve is huge…order small portion unless your REALLY hungry. The veggies are fresh, the soup base is crisp, and the noodles are sprite. The best of all is the extra condoments. They have this garlic paste that I would slather on everything. The also have you bubble teas, plate lunches, and spring rolls just for options. And…you get your own table unlike so other places where you end up sitting with strangers.

    • Cat December 20, 2010 at 6:11 am #

      @MoOgooGuypANMoOgooGuypAN. I’ll admit, I don’t get out to Kapolei much. Though I do love Hapa Grill and En Fuego. Hmm. Fried ice cream.

  6. turkfontaine December 17, 2010 at 3:03 am #

    To Chou is my favorite so far

  7. turkfontaine December 17, 2010 at 3:07 am #

    Mari……look. Cat had PHO yesterday………….are you jealous? i am. may have to head for Oakland today, in the rain.

    • nonstopmari December 17, 2010 at 3:57 am #

      @turkfontaine not jealous. pho places are dime a dozen here, as u know. and i know i’m coming across as a snob, but once u try hole-in-the-wall pho spots in vietnam, it’s like waking up. i’ve tried pho all over town but nothing comes close.

    • Cat December 20, 2010 at 6:11 am #

      @nonstopmarinonstopmari. @turkfontaineturkfontaine. Are you a pho snob, too? :)

  8. Maxcat December 17, 2010 at 6:28 am #

    Believe it or not we have four or five Pho places in Cleveland and one of them, Superior Pho, is quite good and it is because of the broth. The family that runs it is just incredibly nice. It is my ‘go to’ place here. It is the closest thing we have to a real Asian restaurant. Cat, you are a foodie!

    • Cat December 20, 2010 at 6:12 am #

      @MaxcatMaxcat. Pho in Cleveland! Cool! Nothing better than pho (or ramen) on these wintery nights!

  9. mjc_808 December 18, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    I’m with M – Pho One and Hale Vietnam are great. My lunchtime fave is Diem Cafe on Alakea – very flavorful broth and clear, not oily not too much cinnamon like some places. Tried To Chau to see what all the fuss was about. It was good but as Mari noted there’s a plethora of pho joints around time – not worth standing in a loooong line there when there’s so many other pho options nearby!

    • Cat December 20, 2010 at 6:12 am #

      @mjc_808mjc_808. I agree. No need lines when get so many pho places around.

    • harrycovair December 20, 2010 at 7:34 am #

      @mjc_808mjc_808. I like Pho To Chau because the broth is consistent. I haven’t had a bowl of Pho there that I didn’t like. Unlike other restaurants, sometimes the broth is too salty or too much Anise or even lacking in taste.

      You folks are right that sometimes it’s not worth standing in line especially if you’re in a time crunch.

  10. harrycovair December 18, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    I like Pho To Chau myself. The one with the looooong line on River Street well before they even open the door. To me, everything is based on the broth for the Pho. As you noted Cat, it takes hours and hours to make a pot of broth.

    My second choice would have been Pho Hue but the family moved to San Jose. I don’t have a third choice as of yet.

    BTW, at some of the restaurants you can ask the kitchen for the fat that is skimmed off the soup and hopefully refrigerated before being presented to you.

    • harrycovair December 19, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

      Even on a rainy, gloomy Sunday afternoon the line still forms at Pho To Chau. Perfect kind of weather for a hot, steaming bowl of Pho. http://twitpic.com/3hkkv6

  11. dbjack December 18, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    Pho To Chau to me is the best. Waited a long time in line many times for it.

  12. konaish December 19, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    A bowl of pho would be awesome now to warm me up! Haven’t seen any yet. Like M, my go to pho place is Hale Vietnam. Thanks for the blog post to hear other’s favorites I can try when I get home.

  13. chant808 December 19, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    I’d have to say Hale Vietnam, because of their broth. It’s hard to mess up pho, which seems so simple, but I’ve had some that was pretty unsatisfying simply because the broth was blah.

    • Cat December 20, 2010 at 6:13 am #

      @chant808chant808. @konaish I like Hale Vietnam, too. Something about the broth. And it serves an oxtail version, which is awesome.

  14. CodyZamboni December 19, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    I’m a Pho virgin. Never had it. For years heard people rave about their favorites. It’s on my bucket list.

    • Cat December 20, 2010 at 6:13 am #

      @CodyZamboniCodyZamboni. PHO VIRGIN ALERT! Actually, I was one until about two years ago. Never had a craving to try it. Then I did — Super Pho on Waialae — and I became an instant convert!

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