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Feb 12, 2002 09:32 AM

Best Pho in DC/NoVA?

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I'll admit it, I'm a noodle soup freak, especially those of the asian persuasian. So as mich as I am often tempted by other delectables on Vietnamese menus, I can't help but order myself a big bowl of steaming pho whenever we go out for Vietnamese food.

Which begs the question, why not find out who serves the best pho in town, since I know in advance that's what I'll be ordering? I'm a big fan of the pho at Queen Bee, but I have to admit we haven't really tried much else locally.


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  1. Just a few weeks ago I "discovered" Eden Corner, Seven Corners, in Falls Church, at the intersection of Rt 50 and Rt 7. It's a Vietnamese Mall. It was a great experience and they have many Pha restaurants to try out. I plan on visiting each one when I have the opportunity to get out that way. Unfortunately it's a long drive from Baltimore, but I'm a real Pha fan, I love the noodles.

    I read in a previous listing on this board that the "Three ( or maybe it was Four) Sisters is good and it did look quite popular when we walked by.


    5 Replies
    1. re: Toyo

      As a rule, I've found that pho at full-scale restaurants tends to disappoint. At Four Sisters, I found the broth unremarkable and the condiments were not fresh.

      It seems that it just isn't a priority for these restaurants that offer a hundred different entrees. It makes sense that the folks who focus on pho offer the best pho.

      1. re: stephen

        Pho 75 at the corner of Graham and Arlington Blvd is the did anyone miss it?

        1. re: Steve

          Definitely Pho 75.....with other locations just outside Rosslyn, in Rockville and Langley Park. All pho, all the time.....and nothing else. They recently added chicken to their menu lineup, but I haven't tried it yet.

          Jim Zurer
          Washington DC

          1. re: Jim Zurer
            Mike Sullivan

            Pho 75, definitely. You have your choice of meats (well done brisket, eye round, tripe, meatballs, etc.), and they give you a plate heaping with bean sprouts, cilantro, lime, and chopped chilies.

            The one in Rockville is NOT pho only. They serve super spring rolls and have a full menu. Don't miss the Vietnamese iced coffee.

            1. re: Mike Sullivan

              Pho 75 Rosslyn has been my go to place on Saturday mornings for nearly 10 years. At its prime it was some of the best Pho I had ever tasted, either here in NOVA or in Vietnam. It is no longer that great, now it is merely pretty good. I have to get over to Pho 75 on Graham to see if it is the real deal. In Rosslyn, the broth just isn't as rich as it used to be.
              I agree with the posters that found Pho in full menu restaurants just didn't do Pho as well as the specialists. It kind of makes me think of the movie Tampopo and smile.

    2. Your best bet is probably Eden Center at Seven Corners. My favorite is the pho place on the right side of the Viet Royale restaurant (right next to it). I haven't found a better broth anywhere yet.

      However, one strong competitor is the pho place in the nearby shopping center which has a CVS (at 6164 Arlington Blvd). The owner here claims to use better ingredients than the pho places in the Eden Center. I'm not sure, but his enthusiasm for his pho made me chuckle, and he does make an excellent bowl of pho! (I was there again Friday night.) By the way, their chicken "pho" is excellent as well, for folks who don't eat beef.

      Still, having moved back to the DC area from Chicago last spring, I have been disappointed that even the best pho restaurants here seem to be a bit stingy when it comes to the accompanying condiments platter. In the Argyle Street Vietnamese section of Chicago, I became accustomed to receiving a plate overflowing not only with fresh bean sprouts, chilies, lime wedges, and basil, but cilantro, saw leaf herb, and mint. Given the larger Vietnamese population in Virginia, I was surprised to discover this disappointment. The broth is the main thing for me, but does anyone know of a place that offers those other herbs as well?

      9 Replies
      1. re: Stephen

        My other favorite pho place, after the one across the way in the Eden Center from Four Sisters, is in the Culmore Shopping Center on Route 7, between the Salvadoran restaurant and the latin market. Their broth is very flavorful, with more star anise punch than others I've tasted. Only the standard herbs on the accompaniment platter, however.

        If you are in that neck of the woods and like noodle soup, try the Chinese noodle soup at Full Kee in Bailey's Crossroad (near Trader Joe and Office Depot) for a change of pace. It has a meatier-tasting broth, sans anise, with a hint of a funky, barnyard undertone that is not at all unpleasant. You can get it with various meats or shrimp. No herb accompaniment, it just is what it is.

        1. re: zora

          I just had pho today at the place next to the Royal Viet, inspired by your post. The broth tasted less of star anise than the place in Culmore Center, but it was delicious and there was chopped cilantro and spring onion in the bowl. The usual accompaniments were enhanced by thin shreds of pickled onion, and a green leaf (?saw leaf) that the waitress couldn't identify. (The produce man in the grocery store nearby said it was called "gao ga" I think.) I liked the paintings on the walls and the glass-fronted bookcases full of books about Vietnam and American political figures. There was a group of middle-aged and older men playing board games with wooden tiles, drinking drip coffee and smoking cigarettes. The smoke almost drove us away, but we sat by the door and enjoyed the miniature orange tree, growing in a large pot in the front window

          1. re: zora

            The Pho shop next to Viet Royal is " Pho Xe Lua", where "Xe Lua" Stands for train. They serve one of the most authentic broth I have tried so far in America, and is my number one Pho shop. They have something other Pho shops don't have that is Shanks, which in Vietnamese is called "Bap Bo". Shanks are virtually non-existent if you go to a Shouthern Vietnamese Pho shop, while it is popular with Northern Vietnamese. Shanks has tendons (I don't know the precise term) running in between the lean muscle and makes the cross cut of the piece of meat look similar to a turtle's shell --- They're also call "bap rua", or turtle muscle, in Vietnamese (Northern Vietnamese only, most people form the South wont know wha it is, and they tend to get confused ). You get a whole different texture when eating shanks since they are both chewy and tender at the same time. Its beefy flavor is also more intense than other cuts.

            If you want to try "Bap Bo", write it down and give it to the servers since non of them speak English well.

            The "saw leaf" is called culantro, used commonly in Vietnamese cooking, and in Central and South American cooking as well. They could be found in most Korean Markets and the grocery in Eden. Simply ask for more "veggie" if you like more, they might or might not charge extra, but having Thai Basil and Culantro in the soup is essential to its full flavor.
            I notice some Pho fans religiously add an enourmous amount of the hoisin sauce into their soup. I personally appreciate the broth by itself, hoisin sauce is simply an enhancer; adding to much of the sauce, I think, will destroy the true Pho experience. However, this is a matter of personal taste.
            My second Pho shop is Pho Hoa in Annandale, this is a large franchise and their broth rivals Pho Xe Lua.

            If you order Pho take out, try this at home: "Pho burger"
            At home, chop up a teaspoon of fresh ginger, chop as fine as possible, or use the food processor if you prefer. Get some fresh ground beef (3 - 6 oz), mix them with the ginner, and make a patty of no more than 1/4 inch think, put aside. Put all you noodle and toppings in bowl, boil your broth and poor over them, wait for about 10 seconds then strain the broth back into pot and bring to boil again. This is to heat up the entire contents of the soup (using microwave spares you from the mess from pouring hot liquid around). place the patty into the soup bowl (on top of noodles and everything else), then pour the boiling soup into bowl.
            What you get is a medium rare to medium beef patty to enjoy with Pho. Repeat steps above if you want to patty to be cooked more, but medium should be max.

            Is this an American twist to Pho? Nope, this is fully Vietnamese, and Northern Vietnamese that is. However, Southern Vietnamese Pho shops in Saigon do offer them as well. For some reasons I've never found them in any Pho shops here in DC metro area, even though they are delicious and easy to do.

            Hope you'll Enjoy pho Xe Lua, pho Hoa and "Pho burger", but in the end it is you who decide which restaurant is your favourite.

            1. re: nhim_map

              I am sure you have noticed the oil paintings at Pho Xe Lua. Look closely and you will see the proprietor and his family (though a much younger version) in some of those paintings. Some of the paintings are great, and some just plain curious.

              I'm not much of a pho critic. I seem to adore it just about everywhere I go. I have a few questions for you:

              There seems to be some opinion on Chowhound that many places will 'stretch' their stock over the course of a week so that it will not be as good as the week goes by. Or, that some palces serve a stronger stock to lure in customers and then graduaslly weaken it to make money. What do you think?

              What do you think of Pho Hot in Annandale?

              Most of the Pho I have had in the DC area is subtle, gentle in flavor. The first time I had pho in Paris, though, it came out very pronounced and strong. I chalked it up to the difference in customers or regional difference. What is your take on pho? Do you prefer subtle or strong broth? What is the broth like at Pho Hoa?

              Thanks in advance!

              1. re: Steve

                I don't know whether they water down the stock intentionally but I do notice the inconsistency of the broth. Any place in the area that has significantly stronger broth?

                1. re: Ericandblueboy

                  It seems to me that Pho Hot in Annandale has consistently strong broth.

                2. re: Steve

                  I have not heard of "streching" the stock , but I do know at some pho places, the owner/ cook occasionally use beef bullion and pre-packed "pho flavor" cubes, which creates inconsistency, and sometimes just plain bad broth. They do make some extra bucks doing things that way, since it saves time and labor (Pho broth takes no less than 5 hours to complete) and some ingredients. I have not notice inconsistency in Pho Xe Lua, and hopefully they'll stay that way.
                  Pho Hot Annandale is ok for a quick bite, The majority of their customers are not Vietnamese, but rather Korean and Hispanic, so their "Pho" taste like good soup, not good Pho.

                  Pho Hoa's broth is better than Pho Hot as far as "Pho" broth goes, but would it be good for your taste? I'd leave it for you to judge.

                  I do prefer Pho broth with stronger flavor of anise, cinnamon, ginger, and onion. One thing could help bring out the flavor of a weak broth is Fish Sauce (not Hoisin Sauce) and a little lime juice.

                  If you end up in a Pho shop that makes weaker broth, order flank and fatty flank to compensate for lack of flavor, since the "beefy" flavor in Pho broth comes mainly from cooking these parts.

                  Hope this help.

          2. re: Stephen

            Just tried this today after reading this post. Not sure if it's the same place after all these years, but the Pho shop to the right of the Viet Royale (as mentioned above) was pretty killer. By far the most flavor broth I've had in the area. Ingredients seemed better too.

          3. Pho Sate at the corner of Graham Rd and Lee Hwy in Falls Church, Pho 50 in Loehmann's Plaza in Falls Church, and Pho Tay Ho in the Culmore Shopping Center are my favorites

            13 Replies
            1. re: hueman

              Anyone know if there are other pho places that serve the sate sauce that is Pho Sate's namesake? I've been craving some recently, but the last two times I was in that area, the craving for banh mi outweighed the pho sate urge, and I suspect that that battle will always be one by the sammiches over the soup, so I'm looking for a less banh mi-proximate source.

              1. re: sweth

                I'm not sure what that "sate" sauce is, or even how you're supposed to use it (I dipped pieces of meat into it) but I haven't run across it anywhere else.

                When I asked the waitress at Pho Sate, she said "It's sate sauce" and when I asked if it was supposed to go into the soup or be used as a dip, all she said was "whatever you want."

                It's a mystery to me, but it's pretty tasty. I like the pho better than the sandwiches in that same shopping center, so distraction isn't a problem for me.

                There's a fairly new kabob place in that same strip (hope I'm not getting strips mixed up here) but after smelling the buffet and looking at the prices, I stuck with the pho next door. I don't recall seeing a review of that kabob place here yet. Can't remember the name, but it was pretty non-specific (like most of them).

                1. re: MikeR

                  It's probably a sauce from a jar that you can get at an Asian grocery.

                  1. re: dpan

                    It may be but exactly what I don't know. It's certainly not any Chinese sauce that I'm familiar with.

                    1. re: Ericandblueboy

                      Lee Kum Kee makes a satay sauce. You can google it for more info.

                      1. re: dpan

                        Nope, that's not the same thing. I (and probably you) know "satay" as grilled meat on a skewer with a peanutty dipping sauce. The sate sauce at Pho Sate is an oil base with pepper and other little things floating in it, maybe some sesame but it's hard to tell.

                        1. re: dpan

                          As MikeR notes, this is sate sauce, not satay sauce--I've been told that it's the rustic predecessor of sri ra cha, but I think of it as more of a sambal than anything else. It has a nice earthy roasted spice flavor going on that sri ra cha lacks. Here's a recipe that i found by googling; apparently the main ingredients are lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and chiles:


                          1. re: sweth

                            Unless they've only served me the American version, that doesn't sound like the sauce at Pho Sate. I don't remember the red or the chile, at least not as heavy on the chile as this recipe is. There may be garlic and shallots. I don't think I can recognize lemongrass so that might be part of it, but it's definitely light on the hot stuff.

                            Perhaps it's a vehicle for the sri ra cha sauce that's always on the table? Something to take a little crow out of the rooster maybe?

                            1. re: MikeR

                              It's probably been a year or two since I've been there, but that recipe seems pretty close to what they had when I was there. It was more of a reddish-brown than a red, but there were definitely lots of dried/roasted chiles in the mix.

                              1. re: MikeR

                                there are many different types of sauces that are considered sate sauce.

                                you can find a variety of types at any vietnamese grocery store.

                                it's usually mixed into the pho.

                              2. re: sweth

                                nice blog, sweth! that sauce looks delicious.

                                i also found on that site a nice primer on vietnamese herbs:

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  This is always an article I like to reference as well - learned a lot a few years ago from it:

                                  1. re: Dennis S

                                    thanks dennis, pho has always been a mystery to me. it is good to know the standard against which one should measure a pho.

                                    ps, for thai food, this blog is fantabulous! ('twas linked from that viet world kitchen site)

                  2. The original comment has been removed
                    1. Just discussed Pho with a buddy today, He mentioned Pho Golden Cow, asserting that they have the best Pho broth out of all places. They have 2 locations, one across the street from Loehman's Plaze on Rt 50, one is next to CVS across the street from Target - Bailey's crossroad (jefferson street). I have never tried either one, but it sounds promising.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: nhim_map

                        Pho Golden Cow is similar to Pho Hot (from what I recall) so maybe it's just good soup. I'll have to go to the places you mentioned for comparison. Pho Golden Cow can be inconsistent.

                        1. re: Ericandblueboy

                          Went to Pho Xe Lua for lunch today. Their large bowl is priced a bit higher than Pho 75 ($8.95 vs. $6.95). The soup tasted a little more like chicken stock to me ?! (but I was slurping through only one side of my mouth because of a recent root canal). Nevertheless, I found the soup rich and flavorful. My pho was loaded with brisket, fatty flank and tendon, thus somewhat making up for the higher cost.

                          1. re: Ericandblueboy

                            Not sure what you mean by inconsistent. Heck, all pho places I try vary from visit to vist. I've eaten at Golden Cow at least once a week, sometimes twice a week for the last two years. I've never not liked what I've had. At least they always give you ngo gai (sawtooth herb), and don't assume you won't like it because you're not vietnamese. The clientele is very vietnamese -- guys who look like like mechanics and the like and are allowed to smoke at the table near the register.

                            Their goi cuon are great too. Tightly wrapped and made to order. The vermicelli dishes are good too.

                            1. re: MartinDC

                              Not sure what you mean by inconsistent. Heck, all pho places I try vary from visit to vist.
                              That's the definition of inconsistent, no?