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Best Pho in St. Louis?

c
CDollarsign Nov 22, 2010 05:15 AM

It appears my beloved Mama Pho restaurant is closed. I am not 100% but there is a for lease sign on the window but also a not saying they are on vacation. Mama Pho hands down has the best Pho is St. Louis. In it absence I went to Pho Grand but found it to be not a suitable substitute. I have also tried Mai Lee, Pho Long, and Lemon Grass. None are as good. What do you guys like? Has anyone tried Truc Lam or Mekong's Pho? Does anyone know the people at Mama Pho to confirm or could somehow relay to them that I would do ANYTHING to get the recipe or have them teach me how to make it? Please help! I am distraught!

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Pho Long Restaurant
8613 Olive Blvd, Saint Louis, MO 63132

Truc Lam Restaurant
3737 Gravois Ave, Saint Louis, MO 63116

Lemon Grass
3161 S Grand Blvd, Saint Louis, MO 63118

Mai Lee
Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

  1. n
    neointima Oct 30, 2011 05:18 PM

    I should preface this by saying that I am not Vietnamese, and I can't say that I have ever had authentic Pho made by a native or in country. That being said, I was very surprised and disappointed to see that my personal favorite was not listed.

    Pho Long used to be an utter hole-in-the-wall that was kept alive only by (as far as I could tell) Vietnamese patrons and the random adventurous diner. Earlier this year, they did a complete renovation, taking over the store front next door, and give the impression of a slightly more upscale place, including a bathroom that I am now willing to use.

    So the food: The most important tip my old roommate told me about a pho restaurant is that it has to be exclusively about the pho. If it's not specifically a pho restaurant, it's probably not that great. While that's been mostly a helpful guide in most cities, I think Pho Long reflects that pretty well. The menu is sparse- there is half a page of appetizers, half a page of Pho (centered around the different types of meats - e.g. meat ball, brisket, OX TAIL!, tripe, eye round, etc.), a few chicken broth based noodle soups, and some broken rice. That's it!

    The allure of their pho is its deceptive simplicity - a steaming clear broth with a mild scent of beef, onion, and... spices - anise? cinnamon? It's hearty and light at the same time, it's comforting, and in typical fashion it's served with a mound of sprouts, basil, cilantro, lime wedges, and jalapeno slices. The noodles ALWAYS have a perfect al dente - never soggy, and never over chewy. The meat balls are perfectly spiced, the ox tail (which was new in pho for me) is perfectly falling-off-the-bone tender, the eye round a perfect beefy flavor at medium rare temp.

    Since the remodel, you can find the place packed with (presumably) WashU students on almost any given evening, Vietnamese locals, Chinese who love food (like myself), and fortunately a lot more Vietnamese food newbies. The service is mostly good (you'll see), and like the pho, the restaurant is deceptively simple. Go for one thing: Pho.

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    Pho Long Restaurant
    8613 Olive Blvd, Saint Louis, MO 63132

    1 Reply
    1. re: neointima
      c
      chthonic00 Nov 11, 2011 05:35 AM

      Agreed. The pho at Mai Lee has too much cinammon/anise. The pho at Lemongrass and pho grand are a bit weak. And the noodles/soup ratio at Kim Son is off. Pho Long was not great when it opened, but the broth has actually improved with time, and true, the noodles are nicely cooked. The servers aren't great there, but the pho is always warm and pretty delicious. One bonus: for people who need pho to be even more filling, you can order extra noodles (once) at no cost. Plus, you can get Pho Tai Mem there, which is pho with rare flank steak. Their cha gio is pretty decent as well.

      One caveat: I've never been to Truc Lam or Mama Pho's, but I don't eat anything at Mekong because it's filthy in there.

      -----
      Pho Long Restaurant
      8613 Olive Blvd, Saint Louis, MO 63132

      Truc Lam Restaurant
      3737 Gravois Ave, Saint Louis, MO 63116

      Kim Son
      1103 S Cornwell Dr, Yukon, OK 73099

      Mai Lee
      Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

    2. hill food Oct 17, 2011 11:34 PM

      anyone try this place yet? brand new just opened apparently. would love to hear reports

      http://daotienbistro.com/1901.html
      8600 block of Olive

      13 Replies
      1. re: hill food
        wekick Oct 18, 2011 01:06 PM

        Thanks for posting this. It did open on Sunday. I made a little detour to try this place today and I liked it.

        It is tucked behind the strip mall and you can turn south on N McKnight off of Olive to get to it. The decor is bright orange and green. There is plenty of seating, tables and a bar type seating. The orders are put in by computer. I got my order to go and there was lots of help and a minimal wait for my food.

        I tried the spring rolls which were filled with greens, shrimp and some sort of chicken(?) pressed meat-no rice noodles. The sauce was dark brown(hoisin?) and maybe peanut butter in it. They were good and I would rather have the greens instead of the rice noodles.

        I also tried the Bánh mì đặc biệt or special sandwich. The bread was shatteringly crisp on the outside and the sandwich had I think four kinds of meat. It had grilled chicken and pork and 2 kinds of pressed meat. It had cucumbers, greens and a couple slices of the jalapeno with the seeds left in. Very tasty as well.

        I will definitely go back and try some other things.

        1. re: wekick
          t
          tonifi Oct 18, 2011 04:26 PM

          Thank you, wekick! This is a little off my beaten path but I've been looking for a really good bahn mi...and if anyone else has suggestions, I 'll take those too. Wandering up through this thread, I drove by the new Mai Lee (okay, newish) location a month or so ago as I was trying to get to the sporting goods store and thought, "Why on earth would they move there?" It just seemed like such an odd location, tucked into a sort of access driveway...I guess it's working out for them, though...they've been there a while now.

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          Mai Lee
          Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

          1. re: tonifi
            alan Oct 19, 2011 02:14 PM

            It's never anything other than busy so they obviously have made it work. Lots of offices and stores around there. They do quite a lunch business. Banh mi is variable, depending, in part, on the quality of the bread they have at any given time.

            1. re: alan
              l
              lemons Oct 20, 2011 06:56 AM

              V. true. We were in at 2:30 on a Sat. afternoon and it was almost full. Had a good chicken banh mi.

          2. re: wekick
            hill food Oct 18, 2011 04:34 PM

            Thanks! can there EVER be enough sources of good VN?

          3. re: hill food
            f
            FriendOfTheDevil Oct 31, 2011 10:47 AM

            Went there this weekend. Like it alot!

            Bhan MI is VERY good.

            FOTD

            1. re: hill food
              c
              chthonic00 Nov 10, 2011 10:05 AM

              I found Dao Tien overall to be pretty disappointing. Not very flavorfu, over-priced, bad portions (especially compared to other VN restaurants). I've tried com, bun, and banh mi, but none of the soup or pho.

              Me: Vietnamese and former cook

              1. re: chthonic00
                hill food Nov 10, 2011 12:53 PM

                oh, too bad. I might still try it as I may not know any better. (you know what I mean right? I'm not VN and my mom never tried anything VN so my level of comparison is prob. different)

                sounds like you went a few times so we can't blame an 'off' day

                1. re: chthonic00
                  f
                  FriendOfTheDevil Nov 10, 2011 02:00 PM

                  May I ask what Bhan Mi you consider better? I find Mai Lee to be very gristly and Bhan Mi So to be totally lacking meat so i am always on the lookout.

                  Thanks.

                  FOTD

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                  Mai Lee
                  Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                  1. re: FriendOfTheDevil
                    c
                    chthonic00 Nov 11, 2011 05:28 AM

                    Not sure what you mean by gristly, unless it's because the Mai Lee sandwich has the pressed pork meat in it, which is fatty and chewy or if you mean because Mai Lee sometimes overdoes it on the pate which can come off a little grainy. Either way, this can be remedied at either restaurant by ordering the sandwich with thit nuong (roasted pork) or chicken. You can always order the sandwich at Banh Mi So 1 with extra meat, which would still be cheaper and taste better than the sandwiches at Dao Tien (aside from the basic pork sandwich the other sandwiches at Dao Tien are $5+, and the basic pork one certainly is lacking on meat as well).

                    Overall, I would probably pick Banh Mi So 1 simply because the bread is consistently better. They buy it from La Bonne Bouchee in order to get good fresh french bread. The bread I got at Dao Tien was hard as a rock, and sometimes the sandwiches at Mai Lee are really poorly/sloppily composed.

                    Some advice: When I get sandwiches to go from Mai Lee (no matter which filling) I ask them to leave it untoasted. What happens then is they leave it untoasted and leave off the toppings, which are given in a separate container. This is nice because then I can toast the sandwich as much or as little as I want, and add in the toppings on my own. Personally, I think it can be hard to bite through the cilantro whole, so when I take it home, I chop it up and sprinkle on the sandwich.

                    But still, probably the best sandwich is served at my mom's house...but she doesn't really mass produce. :)

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                    Mai Lee
                    Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                    1. re: chthonic00
                      wekick Nov 11, 2011 01:54 PM

                      I've found Mai Lee to be gristly too, and we had the roasted pork. The bread I had at Dao Tien was good french bread and not hard but very fresh. I did imagine it came from LaBonne Bouchée, which we go to quite a bit. I hope it hasn't changed already. There is a place in CoMo that has Viet Namese food and even they get their bread from LaBonne Bouchée I think. I think the taste of the pate is what really makes it as well...and I like the pickled veg as well when they have it. I did like Mama Pho and the people were nice and I learned a lot eating there. `Not so much a fan of Kim Son.

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                      Kim Son
                      1103 S Cornwell Dr, Yukon, OK 73099

                      Mai Lee
                      Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                      1. re: chthonic00
                        f
                        FriendOfTheDevil Nov 14, 2011 08:35 AM

                        I only eat just the grilled pork ones for the most part so no, I am not talking about the pressed meat. As Wekick concurred and my friend who has been to both also concurred, Mail Lee's grilled pork is gristly.
                        The basic Pork at Dao is not at all lacking for meat IMO. Also the bread as Wekick concurs is nice and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Just like I think it should be.
                        Went there again yesterday and met the same friend there. All three of us got Bhan Mi and loved it. He loves the chicken.

                        1. re: FriendOfTheDevil
                          c
                          chthonic00 Nov 14, 2011 12:31 PM

                          Hmm...I hardly ever get the grilled pork version, as I too am an eternal fan of the pate. But maybe I just got a bad sandwich from Dao, never opposed to trying again...

                2. l
                  lemons Feb 6, 2011 02:49 PM

                  Well, they're plenty busy.I believe the central location was a big selling point for the move. Quite pleasant inside, too. It's very tidy and clean, and that reassures lots of folks who are....sometimes hesitant. And they are really good about explaining the menu to folks who ask about one item or another.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: lemons
                    hill food Feb 6, 2011 04:41 PM

                    Lemons: I don't doubt your words for a second, too many people get needlessly 'skeeved' by the unfamiliar. their loss I guess. but I think I need to check out ML for perspective. the only better VN than what I've found in STL I think I've had is the old Slanted Door in SF (new is good too, just it's sorta glam now) maybe I need a less polished factor. </dive snob>.

                    maybe I can get easily skeeved relatives to give it a shot (and explain carefully, no it's not Chinese, no it's not necessarily spicy, sorry very little is battered and fried and yes we can get pizza afterwards - yeesh) can you imagine dragging that crowd to Thuc Lam?

                    1. re: hill food
                      l
                      lemons Oct 18, 2011 06:55 AM

                      Oh, fabulous: dive snob!!!! I do love it, and, with permission, will use it somewhere else! Yay, you!

                      1. re: lemons
                        hill food Oct 18, 2011 05:35 PM

                        use away! we'll make t-shirts, the back can read "ya call THIS grubby?"

                  2. p
                    PK STL Feb 5, 2011 02:18 PM

                    I like the Pho at Truc Lam the best. I also really like their BBQ Pork Spring Rolls and the Blended Lime Drink as well (in the summer). The soups are better than the other items on the menu. As an added bonus it is cheap and as of January first non-smoking!

                    As the sign says Ban Mi So has very good spring rolls and also great Vietnamese Sandwiches. However, it takes so long to actually get to the food-on-the-table part that I refuse to go there anymore.

                    Has anyone else noticed that Lemon Grass has basically doubled their prices since moving to their location next to CBGBs? That said, I do love their Hot Pots...

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                    Truc Lam Restaurant
                    3737 Gravois Ave, Saint Louis, MO 63116

                    Lemon Grass
                    3161 S Grand Blvd, Saint Louis, MO 63118

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: PK STL
                      c
                      CDollarsign Feb 6, 2011 05:03 AM

                      I agree with you 100%! I find that depending on what dish I want dictates where I go. Pho at truc lam, crepes or bun at pho grand, hot pots at lemon grass, etc. I think Mai Lee is decent at almost everything I just never like to go out to the county. There's also a strange vibe there. I kinda fell like it's owned by gangsters. Maybe I'm wrong.

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                      Mai Lee
                      Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                      1. re: CDollarsign
                        hill food Feb 6, 2011 11:28 AM

                        I've yet to go to Mai Lee (except for a drive-by the last time I was house/dog-sitting in Clayton while I poked around for the TJ's in B'wood) such a strange location. if I were a business owner,it's probably the last place I'd locate (except for the proximity to 64 and Metro, in a car the traffic pattern is so convoluted and for a pedestrian it's just a cold dim canyon. all the (exterior) charm of a bad 60's Brit dystopian sci-fi movie. they are just so many more welcoming corners within a mile radius to open a place (but I s'pose they do have a rep and a following to count on).

                        I will still eat there one day.

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                        Mai Lee
                        Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                        1. re: hill food
                          wekick Feb 6, 2011 12:17 PM

                          We used to go to the old one and parking could be an issue there, but we just haven't made it to the new one yet.

                          1. re: wekick
                            hill food Feb 6, 2011 12:56 PM

                            plentiful parking (bottom of an uninspired garage really) and somewhat easy access to West County is the only reason I can think of that location.

                            1. re: hill food
                              wekick Feb 6, 2011 07:18 PM

                              We are just trying to get around to the other places we haven't been. We used to go to Mai Lee exclusively because it was in sort of our area of convenience.

                              -----
                              Mai Lee
                              Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                              1. re: wekick
                                hill food Feb 6, 2011 07:47 PM

                                oh I'm not knocking it and WILL go someday, just an odd location, as in little chance for happenstance customers. (granted sometimes those are the best re name places in strip malls in the wrong part of town or something open 2 days a week in a residential neighborhood)

                    2. m
                      mwalter Jan 23, 2011 09:05 AM

                      I am surpised no one said Pho Grand. Pho Grand has awesome Pho and the best vermicelli. For Bhan Mi I would go to Bhan Mi So, just make sure to ask for double meat.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mwalter
                        c
                        CDollarsign Jan 24, 2011 05:28 AM

                        Pho at Pho Grand is sub par. I encourage you to go down the street to Truc Lam and you will understand. As for eveything else at Pho Grand it is delicious and a safe pick for someone whos never had Vietnamese. Smaller more authentic places can be overwhelming and somewhat scary for the unexperienced. Try Pho Grand's rice flour crepes with the BBQ pork, its one of the best things on the menu.

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                        Truc Lam Restaurant
                        3737 Gravois Ave, Saint Louis, MO 63116

                        1. re: mwalter
                          f
                          FriendOfTheDevil Jan 24, 2011 12:23 PM

                          I am sorry but I don't get their's at all and don't like them at all. Double meat would still only be 1 /1oth of what you got at Mama Pho.

                          i do ;ike their Pho and Spriing Rolls but not the Bhan Mi's....

                          FOTD

                        2. b
                          blipa80 Jan 5, 2011 01:54 PM

                          Bobo at Forest Park and Skinker is amazing! Everytime I go there I get the beef and seafood Pho and it is very consistent. My girlfriend ordered the ginger duck with soba noodles and it was spectacular as well. Highly recommended.

                          1. c
                            CDollarsign Dec 3, 2010 05:38 AM

                            I went to Truc Lam last night and had Pho Tai and it exceeded my expectations. I think I like it more than Mama Pho. The bowl of Pho was huge with tons of herbs, sprouts, chilis and lime. The broth was excellent. The beef, served extremely rare on top was delicious once dropped into the broth. The noodle were slightly over cooked but still good. I am very impressed. The atmosphere and decor leaves some to be desired, but thats all lost once you take your first bite. I got bbq pork spring rolls which were just ok. It is seriously worth a try, very very good. I will be trying Phuc Loi next week and will report back.

                            -----
                            Truc Lam Restaurant
                            3737 Gravois Ave, Saint Louis, MO 63116

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: CDollarsign
                              f
                              FriendOfTheDevil Dec 3, 2010 10:54 AM

                              I am much more interested in Bhan Mi alternatives. I like most Pho that is put in front of me but Bhan Mi seems to vary quite a bit and I MISS MAMA PHO'S!!!!!

                            2. f
                              FriendOfTheDevil Nov 30, 2010 10:05 AM

                              So new further word on Mama's?

                              FOTD

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: FriendOfTheDevil
                                c
                                CDollarsign Dec 1, 2010 05:30 AM

                                I drove by last night and its still closed. I wish I could get in touch with the guy who writes gutcheck for RFT. He is pretty good at finding out if things are closed.

                                1. re: CDollarsign
                                  wekick Dec 1, 2010 06:57 AM

                                  He has it on his blog as closed unfortunately.

                                  http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/gutc...

                                  1. re: wekick
                                    f
                                    FriendOfTheDevil Dec 1, 2010 08:50 AM

                                    WhhhhhhhhhhhAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                              2. r
                                rich in stl Nov 25, 2010 07:48 AM

                                Mai Lee

                                Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                                -----
                                Mai Lee
                                Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                                Mai Lee
                                Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: rich in stl
                                  c
                                  CDollarsign Nov 29, 2010 06:30 AM

                                  I didn't find Mai Lee to be that great... The people there are very nice though.

                                  -----
                                  Mai Lee
                                  Musick Memorial Dr, St Louis, MO 63144

                                2. f
                                  FriendOfTheDevil Nov 22, 2010 10:43 AM

                                  Darn! I thought they were on vacation!

                                  My favorite Bhan Mi! I hope they are not closed!

                                  FOTD

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: FriendOfTheDevil
                                    c
                                    CDollarsign Nov 22, 2010 11:08 AM

                                    I pray that they are on vacation. I absolutely love that place!

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