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Jul 11, 2008 09:07 PM

Calgary Pho (A few quick reviews)

I've only really gotten into Pho in the past year or so, starting in Vancouver along the Vietnamese strips on Kingsway and Hastings where some excellent bowls of soup can be had. Following in the footsteps of pho review king Knightafter on the urbandiner forum (and now here!) I pretty much only order the pho dac biet (or whatever comes close to it), so all of my comments are based on that dish, which for the uninitiated is a beef based broth containing (ideally) both rare and well cooked beef, tripe, tendon and beef balls. I'm not huge on condiments, but I do add the sprouts, lime and basil to my pho.

I work downtown in Calgary during the summer and I get regular cravings for pho. So, I thought I would share some thoughts on the spots I've gone to for lunch during the past couple of months.

Today I had a quick bowl at Sunny, as recommended to me on CH. It's upstairs on 2nd Ave just east of Centre in Chinatown. The place is full of skylights so it is bright, something I'm not too used to in a restaurant! Sunny was nearly full, but I managed a table for myself in a corner. My regular PDB set me back $8. They have a large for an extra dollar or so. The regular was still big though. Lots of noodles and meat. The broth was excellent, it was very aromatic, hot and flavorful. The rare beef was truly rare, something I've found lacking in Calgary (it either doesn't come at all, or it's not really all that rare). The beef balls were cute little grape sized balls and very tasty. There was a lot of tendon in the bottom of the bowl, though some of it was not as gelatinous as I like it to be. Overall, it was an excellent lunch. So long as it's consistent, I'm pretty sure this is my new favorite for downtown pho.

My previous favorite was Pho Hoai in the Far East Shopping Centre just west of 1st St SE on 3rd Ave. The few times I've been there, the pho has been excellent with lots of meat and an aromatic broth. Sometimes the tea there isn't very hot and it can be hard to get service when it's busy, but the pho usually makes up for it. They have 3 sizes there. The extra large is the size of a huge serving bowl...

I went to Pho Pasteur just across from the Harry Hays Building on 1st St SE with my brother after seeing some recommendations on CH. The spring rolls were excellent, but my broth seemed a bit sour and there was no rare beef. Some people really like this place, so I'm curious as to what I should be ordering there, or if maybe I hit them on the wrong day.

On a quick lunch break, a colleague and I went to Thanh Truc on 7th Ave and 1st St SW. My pho was $10, a price point that I have never come across before for pho. If it was good pho, I would have been fine, however, it wasn't the best. Passable, but not anywhere near the Chinatown pho shops. The bun looked alright.

During a shopping trip in the south, I hit up Bagolac Saigon near Chinook Centre. The pho was quite good. Lots of meat and a decent broth. It did not come with basil or lime though. I just got a plate of bean sprouts. Other tables around me got basil so maybe they ran out when I ordered but it was still a bit disappointing. Regardless, if I were in the area I wouldn't hesitate to go back.

I know there was a thread on pho in Calgary, but I think it was at least a year or so old. Anyone else out there have favorites?

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  1. Not totally downtown lunch friendly due to location, but a pair of reviews on some pho serving places in Calgary from the Foodosopher found here if you are interested...

    1. Pho Xuan in the NE is really good and my personal fave. Others have also said it's good as well.

      2 Replies
      1. re: mcmuffin

        mmm the one in the mall is so much better! Bigger potrions and great peanut sauce!

        Pho Que Huong Vietnemese Restaurant‎
        628-999 36 Street NE, Calgary, AB T2A 7X6, Canada

        Thats the one!(can never remember the name)

        1. re: mcmuffin

          Prices are decent too at Pho Xuan in the NE as well.

        2. also not downtown, but have always had really good luck at the Quynh, just down the south side of the wall from the Sunridge cinemas. Fresh, lovely shrimp rolls, excellent pho, and a large and varied menu.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ahemjay

            That's great you've had good luck at Quynh - I wish I have! My favourite is pho pasteur downtown. One of the consistently best I've found; with a flavourful broth and my beef as always arrived rare. (maybe I'm lucky from the sounds of things?) All the accompaniments are always fresh. The vietnamese coffee is quite lovely, especially on a hot summer day. I think I am in love with their springrolls along with peter.v; the summer rolls are very good, but the fried ones are divine! Plus, it's not overpriced at all, and full of customers nearly all the time. A gem.

            1. re: hornvixen

              I agree - Quynh has been terrible when i've gone. Pho Pasteur is really good for classic Pho Tai - i don't think it's just a luck thing.

              Pho Que Huong used to be a big personal fave of mine, but it has been pretty poor the last 3 times we've gone. I think it's off the list now.

              And Pho Xuan is ok - lots of people really like it, but in 3 trips there, i've only found it to be decent.Nothing super special.

              Funny though, as a big foodie friend of mine loves Pho Que Hoang, and had a bad experience at Pho Dau Bo. So really, i think it just comes down to what'cha like, and how it is on any given day.

          2. I could eat pho daily and never get sick of it. This being the case, it's a frequent meal for the hubby and I.

            Sunny's Vietnamese above the Golden Happiness Bakery in Chinatown is has a great Pho Sate (but I prefer it with less oil) and the beef is rare. You can actually request the beef on the side.

            Pho Hoai (Far East Shpping Centre and also on MacLeod Tr and Southland Dr) creeps me out having known people who have found cockroaches in their soup and crawling on their chairs. I found the beef to be rather tough.

            Pho Pasteur has a great bun with spring rolls, shredded pork skin, and charboiled pork (my mum always got me take out from there before Sunny's opened), but I've never had the pho there.

            Quynh had overcooked mushy noodles :P

            Bagolac Saigon by Chinook has a decent broth, but I've found their condiments and service to be quite lacking as mentioned above. The beef again was not really too my liking in texture.

            Pho Dau Bo on 17th Ave near the Sobeys on 52nd St is QUICK and efficient and you can get a bowl of piping hot pho in about 2 minutes from the time you enter the door. Hubby seems to really like this place, but I'm a bit more picky about too much chili oil in my sate.

            One place we keep going back to is Mina's in the strip mall on Lake Fraser Drive SE just south of the Holiday Inn Express and Calgary Honda across from the Tim Horton's. The broth has a good balance of spiciness with tomatoes, onions, cilantro (but not too much), etc and tons of basil and lime for my liking to add in. They also have these tender beef ribs that are worth the wait.

            Does anyone know of a Vietnamese restaurant that serves banh beo? It's a steamed rice "cake" that is dimpled in the centre and filled with shrimp (dried/fresh), scallions, mung bean and served with nuoc mam.

            12 Replies
            1. re: tintallie

              "Pho Dau Bo on 17th Ave near the Sobeys on 52nd St is QUICK and efficient and you can get a bowl of piping hot pho in about 2 minutes from the time you enter the door. Hubby seems to really like this place, but I'm a bit more picky about too much chili oil in my sate."

              I love this place! Their pho is served very fast and taste very fresh. I never had a problem with them over cooking my noodles and I heard that they use AAA beef in their pho. Also, I found that there are a lot of Vietnamese people that eat here- which I think is a good sign of authenticity. Their sate pho is delicious if you don't mind the heat. They are also clean compared to most places in Calgary. You get basil, bean sprouts and fresh chili peppers and sometimes this prickly herb that smells good. But all in all, I think this is the best place for pho.

              1. re: pasaker

                I think the prickly herb might be Vietnamese/Thai mint.

                1. re: aktivistin

                  Maybe sawtooth herb? Or are they the same thing?

                2. re: pasaker

                  It's long coriander that they serve with their garnish plate.

                  1. re: foodosopher

                    Almost undoubtedly that prickly herb is 'culantro' (and no, that is not a mis-spelling for 'cilantro'. Culantro is sometimes called 'sawtooth' and is preferred over cilantro in Vietnamese and a lot of Latin cooking. There have been several discussions about it here on CH.

                  2. re: pasaker

                    Pho Dau Bo is the best Pho in Calgary. Soup always hot and the sprouts and basil are fresh. And yeah they are fast and efficient.

                    1. re: jojok

                      Wow, I definitely should try it now. How are the prices there?

                      1. re: shdiep

                        The prices of the pho are under $9.00 (?) I'm pretty sure they are for a large and regular size pho. But I think the regular size is quite big, much bigger then that Pho Pasteur downtown. If you have a liking to spicy foods, then try their Satay Pho. It is delicious. I think I was addicted to it for awhile there hehe. Also, I've had their beef stew with baguette (which is more like a big dinner roll then a baguette- but just as good, nice and warm.) Give it a try and tell us what you think! Enjoy!

                        1. re: pasaker

                          Thanks for the information!

                          I will definitely be going there to try it out. Do they do take out well? My parents love Pho, and I might just get them some when I head back home next month. I have to commute by car and its about an hour and half drive. I hope the Pho will be okay, as long as they separate the noodles and the broth, which I am sure most places do.

                          1. re: shdiep

                            Yup they do take out!! AND they do separate the noodles and the broth. No worries there! Just give them a call. 403-272-5160, if you like everything in your pho- just order the #1 Pho Dao Bo Dac Biet.

                            1. re: pasaker

                              Sounds great! I will be sure to head down there before heading back home!

                              Thanks so much, and I'll be sure to follow up on what I think about it!

                3. As for rare beef!! I must add that at Pho Dau Bao, I've seen people actually ask for the beef to be separate from the noodles gradually add the beef into the bowl as they eat...hmm never tried that but it does look interesting.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: pasaker

                    Went to Pho Dau Bao for lunch today. Sat down at 12:34 and had my bowl of pho sitting in front of me at 12:37 (seriously). Very efficient, very good and very cheap. I had the regular #1 (rare beef, tendon, tripe, beef balls) with tea and it came to $8.40. IMO it's their broth sets them apart from the plethora of other pho houses that are in this city. Have been going here regularly for over 5 years and it never disappoints.