The only place I've been in the Baltimore/DC area is Pho #1 in Catonsville. I think it's good, but I'd to get a larger sampling to calibrate my opinion.
Plus, if you don't mind sharing, what is your favorite type of pho?
re: Dennis S
Nice description of the different Pho's. When Im in SF I head for breakfast to Dottie's Blue Moon Cafe on Jones Street. Next time out I will try one of the Pho places.
Mind you, the story and places reviewed are dated 2004. So I will post on the bay area Chowhound for a refresher review.
I need to second Pho 88. I drive 40 minutes to eat there every week for several reasons:
1. As someone sensitive to MSG, they don't have enough MSG to alert me.
2. Service is consistently good.
3. Place is clean, they throw away the unused veggies in front of you.
4. Soup stock is good, consistently the best I've had in DC.
5. Decent portions of noodle and veggies.
6. Price is fair.
As different people like different things, I think it's only fair for you to give it a try. I regreted it as now I have to drive 40 minutes there every week.
My favorite places for pho in the Baltimore area are Pho Nam and Pho Saigon (both in Catonsville). Both have a southern style rich, complex broth with a large number of cuts of beef available. Pho Saigon also has a "northern style" pho which I haven't tried yet, but I assume means that the broth is much lighter in flavor and complexity (as Northern-style pho tends to be).
I like both of those places better than Pho #1, which I think has ok pho but may be better for the other Vietnamese dishes they serve. There's a place in Security Mall in the food court above the asian market that is comparable to Pho #1. An Loi falls somewhere below that (IMO). Mekong Delta (in Baltimore City) has a different flavor profile -- beefy with a slightly more vinegary edge and not quite as savory, which is not to my taste. The meat selection is also limited (pretty much thin slices of raw beef and meatballs), though this is probably more authentic and similar to what I had in Vietnam. (The seafood soup at Mekong Delta is outstanding, though). I wouldn't go to Baltimore Pho for pho period, though some of my friends have reported their other dishes being very good.
There's a pho place in Towson, with a branch in Columbia, which I can't remember the name of right now, but IMO have a fairly unrefined, beefy broth without the complexity of spices/flavors I usually enjoy in pho.
If you couldn't tell, my favorite pho is beef pho with a rich, complex broth and a multitude of cuts of meat. So I couldn't really tell you about pho ga (chicken), since I never get it.
Also, unfortunately, I haven't spent enough time in Northern Virginia to really try a bunch of pho places, though the area is fantastic for Vietnamese food in general. :)
I'm hoping client work up that way picks up (for a number of reasons), but I really like the food south and west of Baltimore. Snyders, Pioneer, Grace Garden, Kloby's, the taco place in the Shell at 174 and 1, etc. So, while I need to keep those in regular rotation, I love hearing of more places. Still on the list is the taco truck on 1 North of 174, and Pho #1, but now I have 3 places to try!
Cain, my favorites are Tai Nam Gan and Tai Gau, both have a mixture of eye of round and fatty tendon or fatty flank steak. I usually start by slurping a bit of the broth to get a feel for the chefs preparation style. That is the true taste. Then I drop in sprouts and some basil ripped small, the edges let the flavor out, as a Vietnamese gent explained to me in sign language in Saigon. Then I slurp a bit more, try a bit of the now done eye of round. At this point I usually give the Sri Racha hot sauce and the hoisin sauce a splash. Then I get my head down and tuck in!
Thick, strong vietnamese iced coffee, served in a single french drip cup, is a great complement.