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Jul 17, 2009 12:06 PM

In Search of a better Pho. [MSP]

I recently tried the Pho (Pho Dac Biet) at Ngon in St Paul and was a bit underwhelmed at the flavor of the broth. To me it was bland, almost like a waterd down chicken broth. The rest of the Pho was very good, lots of beef and the noodles werent mushy but the lack of flavor of the broth was a total turn off. So my question (and I am sure this is almost as heated a debate as the lucy) where in St. Paul am to find a better Pho. Keep in mind I'm not willing to travel any further than Sp.

Thanks in advance

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    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Ahhh I knew it. I know whats for dinner tonight! I'll be sure and report back, and thanks.

      1. re: Fudist

        If you havent already gone, i have another recommendation: I was feeling sick earlier in the week and ended up eating pho along university three nights in a row. I ate at Pho Ca Dao at Univ. and Arundel the first night and it was fantastic, then had Saigons, and on the third night decided i had to go back to Ca Dao, because it was just superior.

        The broth has unparalled flavor and way of the negative after effects of msg which Saigon's left me with (dont get me wrong i LOVE saigon and could easily eat their bahn mi and spring rolls three days a week, but when i want pho its got to be Ca Dao's. plus they're open 7 days a week unlike saigon) The only downside: they only serve pho (when it comes to explaining why their broth is amazing I think this has a lot to do with it - the only other thing they serve is papaya salad and thats not even on the menu - there is just a sign plastered to the wall (as a side not its pretty good and a very interesting departure from the som tam's im used to of the thai and lao varieties with lots of fresh basil and shredded dried beef pieces mixed in.

        1. re: tex.s.toast

          Agreed. I really enjoy everything about the pho at Pho Ca Dao.
          Re: the papaya salad. Ordered it once, liked it...are you sure it's dried beef pieces in there though? Seems to me it was dried shrimp.

          1. re: tex.s.toast

            tex- what did you mean about Saigon/msg- can you proofread that post, there are some typos- 'way of the negative...' was that 'wary of the negative after effects'?

            1. re: faith

              im pretty sure i just left the word "less" out of the post - way less of the negative after effects - which if i wanted to make grammatically correct i should have said way fewer of, although id say there was both less variety and less intense msg pain from ca dao's broth.

              dorry i posted when distracted, i just meant to say that while saigon's pho isnt bad its not my favorite thing they do so when i go there i order other things and when i want pho i go somewhere nearby.

      2. I've always been most fond of the pho at Trieu Chau 500 University Ave. W in St. Paul.

        There are some yet to try though!

        1. I still like Pho 79 on Energy Park Drive. Plus, the salad rolls are fab.

          1. I urge you to think again about Ngon. For my money, and I've visited about a dozen or more places for Pho, it's the best in town.

            1 Reply
            1. re: FishMPLS

              i'm going to agree with you-- in that when ngon is on, ngon is on. i have expressed my love for the meatball pho at ngon on other threads, it's very traditional, with fresh vietnamese imported spices and (when in season) herbs and veggies from the hmong farmers who sell right down the road. the pho at ngon can be splendid.

              that said, there was one time i *had* to have it this past early spring, and i swear to god i think they ran out of the beef pho broth on my order and subbed in pho ga broth. uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh. not good. not good at all. maybe this happened to Fudist too. so i'm probably 11/12 for pho at ngon. the 11 have been very good, at least, sometimes really good, so i'll take that stinker of a bowl and say it was a bad day for prep at ngon. hopefully they get so much business that any little bumps like that will be worked out in a year or two, because i hope to still be supporting the great cooking at ngon for a long time. :)

            2. Try every single shop that's still open on University (while they are...the future LRT's lack of stops at smaller blocks, and lack of frequently-running #16 buses, might kill many of them) that is 100% run by people from Southeast Asia. You'll win some, you'll lose some, but you'll win a lot. I know that's not really specific, but names and restaurants change a lot in Frogtown. Give 'em all a try and write down the names & locations of your favorites. Seriously.

              (This is reasonable because you'll spend less at many of them than you will at Ngon. Lower markup above cost.)

              8 Replies
              1. re: kitkat

                kitkat, I'm not sure your pricing assumptions are correct. Perhaps Ngon's is priced a little higher because they are using Thousand Hills grass-fed beef and different cuts of meat in their pho than the average joint?


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  That could very well be! But, y'know, if Thousand Hills grass-fed beef isn't important to you, it isn't important to you. If a simple, "I like this pho!" is important, which it seemed to be to this poster, I thought price might be a good thing to mention to encourage him/her to adventure.

                  (Also, I stand corrected about % markup over cost.)

                2. re: kitkat

                  regarding ngon's pricing, i believe they are getting 10 dollars or so for a bowl of pho (its actually 8 for chicken and another one). A large combination pho for take out (.50 cent surcharge) fro Pho Ca Dao is 8 dollars. I am definitely not rolling in the dough these days but it doesn't seem to me to be an unreasonable expectation that people pay 2 dollars more for guaranteed locally, usually organically sourced ingredients and ambiance. Obviously once you get into the more fusion-y entrees and such the prices at ngon dont compare, but for the traditional vietnamese items, like the pho, the price is only marginally higher. Additionally, i think your assertion that the lower prices are due to lower markup seems unlikely, as it is clear from the look of the restaurants and provenance of the ingredients that Ngon is paying higher input prices, and as such i totally understand the higher menu prices as a result. I love my down and dirty pho, i also really like ngon, it just annoys me when they get slammed for "doing the same thing for more" because its really not the same thing, and its not that much more.

                  1. re: tex.s.toast

                    Ngon, it should be noted, also has what may be the best selection of local beer in the metro area. A truly amazing, wonderful beer list, with one cask conditioned selection all the time.

                    1. re: tex.s.toast

                      I also don't think that a $2 surcharge is an unreasonable surcharge for ingredients with a particular (and expensive) set of constraints and for ambiance!

                      Thanks for pointing out the expensive ingredients, though--I guess you might be right about the % markup being the exact same.

                      Anyway, I posted as I did because I didn't get the impression that the poster was necessarily looking for ingredient constraints or ambiance.

                      It sounded to me like the poster was looking for pho he/she liked the taste of better. I thought mentioning price might encourage him/her to give the restaurant-hopping advice a try.

                      1. re: kitkat

                        A few things... I was actually surprised at the quantity of Pho i actually got it was quite a bit. And the price was very reasonable for that amount( less than $9.00) And although I appreciate they use locally sourced meats it's not a deal breaker for me since I find Thousand Hills beef swampy tasting though not so much in this case vs a steak from say Lunds or Byerlys. My main concern when it comes to Pho is the complexity of the broth. And the broth at Ngon from what my palate gathered didn't have alot going on in the way of flavor.I also understand most restaurants will have an off day or night here and there as well. I'm not some picky elitist food snob either so I def will be giving Ngon another try. How can you not give another chance to a place that spins the vinyl(The Replacements no less) during lunch. The menu also is very interesting looking and I want to try the pork belly, rabbit and duck dishes. Tomorrow night without fail I will be headed to Saigon with a report on sunday.


                    2. re: kitkat

                      jfood is no expert in Vietnamese food (none at all where he lives) but all he can say about the beef Pho at Ngin is that it is really freakin' good. $10 for that dish is almost a steal.

                      1. re: jfood

                        jfood - if you're willing to drive to danbury, you might want to try Pho Vietnam Restaurant (which used to be Thang-Long to see how it compares. no atmosphere. dirt cheap. pretty darn good.