Alice Patis' South Bay Pho Rankings
Inspired by Carb Lover’s idea to organize a future chowdown to compare a few of the South Bay’s top pho places (a Pho-down as she called it), I finally got organized to rank my South Bay pho experiences. I could never get as comprehensive as a certain well-known ramen list. But this is a start for the South Bay area.
First a few disclaimers:
This list rates only beef pho. A ranking of chicken pho would need a whole separate endeavor.
So far the list is based only on 1 or 2 visits per place, or at most 3 visits for a couple places on the list.
Pho is an extremely subjective dish. Something high on my list is very possibly low on another’s list, and vice versa.
I prefer the more subtle northern style, which relies more on beef bones for flavor and fragrance (what Vietnamese call muoi pho), and less on the spices such as coriander, ginger, star anise etc.
I no longer add hoisin or sriracha to my pho, so the ratings are all based on unadulterated broth.
The ratings are based on a bowl with the following meats only: tai (rare beef), gan (tendon), and gau (fatty brisket).
I like my tai rare but slightly cooked by the hot broth. I don’t request the raw tai on the side since I prefer that the tai absorb the flavor of the broth.
I haven’t been to a few of the most popular places, so the list is not definitive.
Don’t use this list to exclude a pho place just because it’s not among the top. Except for the lowest ranked places (less than 10 points), any pho place is worth going to for a hot bowl of comfort food. Some are just better in my nitpicky mind, is all.
My scoring system has a total of 30 points, with points given to 15 separate criteria. The 2 criteria that I consider most important are the flavor/fragrance of the broth (muoi pho), and the rareness/quality/cut of the tai beef. Those criteria have a maximum of 5 points each. The other 13 criteria have a maximum of 1 to 3 points each. Service, decor, price and serving size were not among my criteria (though have been noted in my notes).
Given the results, a score of 10 or less is very bad (I would never return for pho), 11-14 is okay and I’d return only if dragged, 15-20 is good (I’d return for pho), and over 20 is worth a long drive just for pho. I guess I’m so picky, that none of the places scored over 24, so over 24 would be better than mom’s pho.
Alice Patis’ South Bay Pho Rankings as of 4/26/07 (score in parenthesis)
1. Dac Phuc (24)
198 W Santa Clara St., San Jose
(report is from Feb 2006; I’ve since returned and it’s still the top)
2. Nha Toi (23)
460 E. William St., San Jose
(I still owe the board a report)
3. Pho Hanoi (22)
1759 E Capitol Expy, San Jose
4. Pho Binh (21)
1274 Persian Dr., Sunnyvale
I can’t find my newer post, here is my older one:
5. Pho Y (19)
1660 E. Capitol Expwy., San Jose
6. Super Eggroll (18.5)
445 Blossom Hill Rd. Suite A, San Jose
A surprisingly good showing for a place you’d never expect would have pho, let alone pho worth a return. Report coming.
7. Viet Ville (closed) (16.5)
Closed in 2006; I include it just because I have 3 visits worth of notes.
8. Pho My (14)
5499 Snell Ave., San Jose
9. Pho Tau Bay (12.5)
454 Keyes St., San Jose
Ok but not worth returning. Report coming.
10. Beef Noodle #1 (9.5)
1611 E Capitol Expy, Suite 206, San Jose
11. Fresh Choice (9)
Various; I went to the one on 5353 Almaden Expy., San Jose
Yes, I went to Fresh Choice for pho. And it wasn’t beef pho (it was “chicken pho”) but I include it since no one ever reads the Chains Board. I’d never return for pho, but their blueberry grain muffins are still killer. And hey, it almost beat Beef Noodle #1.
I’ve been to at least 7 other pho places in the South Bay but I didn’t keep or no longer have notes on them so I’m not including them. None of them would’ve scored more than ~16 points anyway.
Past discussions of the best pho in the South Bay:
(includes a different Alice’s top 4 places)
Now, please share your top pho places!
I didn't see a review of Super Eggroll's pho in Alice's other review (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/316555), but I went ahead and tried it anyway. As she says, it's surprisingly good for a place that has a dozen egg rolls lying under a heat lamp, and advertises its Hawaiian/Korean BBQ as well as Chinese food. But apart from its location, the pho itself is merely decent - pretty good broth, but the meat didn't taste so good and I was forced to doctor it with sriracha *and* hoisin. Minimal accompaniments - bean sprouts, lemon and holy basil. I tried a pork egg roll, and it was all right. It's not one of those thick-skinned egg rolls that expat NYers are always whining about (though I grew up on those), but I knew that in advance, having seen them on the counter. Also, obviously, not freshly cooked. The filling was bland and not particularly porky.
The restaurant itself is surprisingly grand for its location - a sprawling steam counter, tons of tables and a mirror-backed bar in the back.
This is the closest pho place to me as the crow flies, I believe, but it still requires me to hop on the freeway and as long as I'm doing that, I'd rather go to Nha Toi or another of the top pho joints. If I were shopping nearby on Blossom Hill I'd return, though.
Super Eggroll Restaurant
445 Blossom Hill Rd, San Jose, CA 95123
Very helpful posting, Alice!
["Faux pho"!] One dignified Vietnamese-born gentleman used to steer people away from most pho houses in the south bay on the grounds their broth was faux (leaning heavily on MSG). The Mercury piece a few years ago (and a food-writer friend who also wrote about this) emphasized home-made beef broth. That looks like part of your quest too, Alice.
(Also re faux pho, has anyone mentioned the pronunciation issue? I didn't see it in the past postings here and it's a bit of trivia like, though less food-important than, the shifted US meaning of "beignet.")
Alice, thank you! You are doing a wonderful service with your pho reports and rankings! Very interesting that the top two are in the downtown area as opposed to the eastside. I've had Nha Toi's chicken pho w/ unborn egg but not their beef. The chicken broth was very nice, albeit a tad greasy for me.
On my to-try list are also Pho Bang and Pho Kim Long both in San Jose. Who knew that Fresh Choice served pho?!
I have hopes of getting this Pho-down together one day. If anyone is interested in getting an invite who isn't already on the Viet lunch group list, then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for the list went to Pho Hanoi, loved the Chicken Pho with young eggs. But I only got one egg, Will have to go back again soon.
Funny you should list Fresh Choice since I had it last year and I too would not have the pho but there is a lot I would have.
Now I have a list to work from