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Austin - Tan Tan - Best pho (?)

  • s

So, I met a teacher friend of mine at Sawadee for lunch today. Good lunch. I need to eat something besides the buffet before I make a final decision.

Sitting at the table next to us was a teacher who now works at the school I once worked at (and friend still does). We invited him over. We talked. He was nice, etc., etc.

As we discussed food in Austin, he brought up the fact that his folks have run a restaurant in Wisconsin for the past 25 years. He then asserted that Tan Tan was the best bowl of pho in Austin.

Anyone know? Anyone have an opinion? I want to know your favorite pho and whether anyone here has tried Tan Tan.

I figure I will give it a try next week.
It's on Ohlen Road. North on 183 frontage road to Ohlen. take a right. Behind the Target is a small complex (with a great Martial Arts studio if anyone wants to get into Kickboxing or Vale Tudo or some other obscure types of the arts). Right next to that is a small strip mall with a washateria and Tan Tan. It's all just down the road from Lanier HS, if that helps.

I'm new(ish) to pho, so I am inclined to take the word of one who was suckled at the teat.

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  1. I've tried about 8 or so pho places in Austin. Tan Tan is my favorite, and I was last there last Sunday. Had a large no. 1 (brisket, flank, round, tripe, and tendon, I think) and licked the bowl clean. Pho Huang at Burnet and Rutland is second.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Jim Washburn
      Seamus Mitwurst

      I've been on a pho kick lately.

      I tried Tan Tan and have to agree that it is damn good.
      I don't know if I can declare a winner of best pho in my book.

      I do know that it is best to avoid Pho '75 on N. Lamar near Koenig and the new Half Priced Books.

      Another pho I like is Hoa My, in the strip mall west of I-35 just north of Parmer.

      On the errant noodle tip, I have a cook friend who will berate waiters when she finds one in her pasta. I can't say that it bothers me.

    2. I'm going to have to agree here - I think Tan Tan has the best pho around. The noodles are always cooked just right and not bunched up like a noodle rubber-band ball (also with no errant flat noodles thrown in, like you sometimes get at Pho Huang), the broth is second to none, and the meats are always high quality - get an order with bible tripe and soft tendon (even if you are squeamish about the 'other' meats, they are always top quality at Tan Tan). Pho is one of those dishes that when everything comes together perfectly, it is nirvana in a bowl. I think Tan Tan is extremely close.

      1 Reply
      1. re: David Jordan

        Funny you should mention the errant flat noodle, as I noticed one at one of the Vietnamese places I've had noodles at recently, but I can't remember whether it was Tan Tan, Tam Deli, or Le Soleil. It didn't annoy me, anyway. Just the other day I had a whole catfish at Captain Benny's and found an errant fried shrimp on my plate. I took that as a good omen.


      2. Tan Tan gets my vote for best pho, though for overall best Vietnamese I prefer Sunflower or the recently-opened Le Soleil, run by the man who started Sunflower with his wife.

        1. s
          Seamus Mitwurst

          Thanks for all of the responses.
          I gotta skip breakfast one day and try this place.

          1. How interesting. There is a Tan-Tan in Garland, ( Dallas Area) on Walnut. Some friends and I have always asserted it was the best Pho in town, and they open at 9am, so you can eat it for breakfast. They seem to be a little more friendly than most of the apathetic (service-wise) places in Dallas. I wonder if this a mini-chain?

            2 Replies
            1. re: asiantale

              I don't think it's a chain. Tan-tan (sometimes spelled dan-dan) is the name of a style of Chinese noodle dish, so I think that's the reason for the similarity in names...kind of like old-school Chinese places calling themselves "Chow Mein."

              1. re: Kirk

                chinese dan dan noodles are nothing like vietnamese pho though. someone told me tan means to dissolve in vietnamese. who knows.

            2. not sure about pho, I haven't been as into it lately. I crave good ramen - the only place you can get it done well that I know of in Austin is the lunch at Musashino. It's winter's day dream.

              Anyway, I did want to put in my two cents about Vietnamese food. I love 888 (which now has a different name as well) on Oltorf. I've been going there for years. They changed ownership recently, and we were skeptical - afraid, actually. The place got fancy menus and went a little upscale in the presentation (and they serve you sorbet after an appetizer - a palate cleanser, I suppose?) However, the prices stayed the same, and the food got better, so it was only a good change.

              Jerome is a French fellow who works there, and he is my favorite waiter in Austin, and I'm not normally the type of person that has favorite waiters and knows their names.

              The atmosphere is really relaxing - big red booths, lots of room, fish tanks, and a diverse crowd.

              I burned myself out on pho, although theirs is good. I tend to order stir-frys, salads, Mi soup (egg noodles - closer to ramen :) Everything there is always really fresh, and I find their broth and fundamentals like that to be of higher quality and more carefully made than the other pho places I'd been to in town. Though I'd never been to Tan Tan. I'll have to try it.

              I also want to give a shout out to Sea Dragon for excellent Vietnamese food (they serve Chinese as well - try the Salt & Pepper Shrimp). The largely Asian crowd are eating dishes I always want to ask about. Recently I saw a table enjoying "make your own" spring rolls. It looked like fun.

              1. i had #3 pho there today (all the meats except tripe) and it was quite good. the brooth definitely tasted like it was made at least partially from stock. make sure you tear up all the basil leaves into the soup, add all the jalapenos, squeeze the lime into the soup and add all the bean sprouts. the only way to eat pho IMHO. Very good Pho. Very nice folk.

                1. Grilled Pork & Egg rolls Vermicelli Bowl (#40) all the way! I know it's not considered Pho, but Tan Tan knocks this dish out of the park. I used to be a very loyal Pho Van customer, but I see no reason to miss this dish when I have a craving for Vietnamese. Their egg rolls are THE best in town, guaranteed. Top it all off with a little fish sauce and you have the best $5 meal in Austin.

                  Everything I have had at Tan Tan has been extremely fresh, and the service is great. Also, make sure and bring your folding money because they don't take credit cards.

                  1. I stopped to see the menu at Tan Tan a couple of weeks ago, and would have eaten there but for lack of time. But I will return asap because the owner assured me that they, "... serve the best Bun Bo Hue in town." More probably, the only place in Austin that does. Bun Bo Hue is a pork/beef (Etc)thick noodle soup made in the old Vietnamese imperial city of Hue style. It is not commonly served in Vietnamese restaurants, and is often one of the many unique and very satisfying dishes (including a wonderful snail salad) found in those Hue style places. Granted, it is very much an acquired taste and not for everybody. But everyone should experience it at least once before they meet their baker. Unfortunatly, Bun Bo Hue seems to be the only Hue item on Tan Tan's menu.

                    The best Bun Bo Hue in Houston is at Kim Chau, on Long Point just 1/2 blk west of Silber Rd. It's just about the only thing they sell and Vietnative and mavens come from far and wide, often carting home potfulls of the stuff ... that's how good it is! If you dine in, you'll get a huge bowlfull and (if you're me) a big paper napkin with a gentle reminder from the owner to tuck it into your shirt.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: avi

                      yes, i call spring rolls summer rolls too. that's the proper name -- i think in general spring rolls implies that they're fried rolls.

                      (oops -- meant to post this after next thread)

                    2. Tan Tan has excellent pho and their tofu with lemongrass vermicelli bowl is delish, although super greasy and not very authentic based on other tofu lemongrass bowls i've had other places. My only complaint is the owner with the large mole on his face. The mole itself doesn't bother me; it's the 2-inch+ hairs coming out of it. But we've learned to strategically sit in the restaurant so when he comes up to take your order you don't have to look at it. Basically when you go in, sit at a table where the aisle is on your left. Sorry if that's rude but it's quite shocking.

                      I think Pho Van (formerly Cong Ly) has really great broth too. Their meat selection is inconsistent though. When I order with tendon there is usually only one small piece. Their Banh Mi are the best in Austin that I've had so far (going to try the banh mi place in chinatown center soon)

                      Sunflower's pho sucks, but they have great non-pho entrees. I especially like the Shaken Beef. Sunflower also has the best spring rolls in Austin, hands down. Which reminds me. I've always grown up calling what we all call Spring rolls (the shrimp, pork, vermicelli noodles, veggies, herbs wrapped in a softened rice paper), Summer rolls. Who's with me? Maybe I should start a new topic.

                      Pho on Guadalupe has really tasty broth as well.

                      1. Last weekend I went to Tan-Tan for the second time. The shrimp pho was the perfect thing on a rainy night. The broth is more flavorful than at Triumph Cafe, and the spring rolls have both char siu and shrimp versus just shrimp at Triumph. I also got to taste the the vermicelli bowls with the egg rolls and the one with the grilled chicken, both of which were fantastic. So far everything I or anyone eating with me has ordered has been good.

                        I have never ordered pho from Sunflower, so I cannot compare. But their garlic shrimp with green beans is great.

                        1. Where does Mekong River rank on the totem pole of pho? I had it the other day - my first bowl of pho ever - and thought it was fantastic. Sounds like Tam-Tam is where I need to go next.


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jwynne2000

                            Mekong River has got to be near the bottom. I wish it was better because it's a short walk from my office, but it's just not very good. You'll be much happier at other Vietnamese places discussed in this thread.

                          2. Tan Tan's Pho is great, but my favorite is their Mi or Egg noodles in Chicken Broth. I haven't had egg noodles as good as that anywhere else in Austin. The Mi Do Bien with a little soy, red vinegar, hoisin, and sriracha, and you are good to go.

                            1. Have to agree, Tan-Tan has awesome pho (# 1 with tripe and tendon - I get meatballs added). I usually slurp down every drop of broth. Hubby is particularly fond of the Hue-style pho (big chunks of pig blood and pig's feet). That and a cafe sue da. Man oh man.

                              Fried egg rolls are da bomb! And finish off with one of those bean drinks with coconut milk and ice. Mmmmmm...

                              1. I have heard it said by Vietnamese people that this is a good place, but lately I notice their sign reads Tan My. What's up with that, if anything?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: singlemalt

                                  They had to change their name because a restaurant in Houston already has the name Tan Tan. This is what a Vietnamese friend of mine told me. I find it kinda strange since there is a Kim Phung in Houston, and one here in Austin, and I don't believe they are owned by the same people. Oh well. The name is different, but the owner is the same, and the food is the same.

                                  Tan Tan = Tan My

                                  1. re: Homero

                                    I was there yesterday for the first time since the name change, and I asked the waitress if the ownership had changed, and she said yes, but perhaps there was a misunderstanding. Anyway, whereas I almost always get the pho dac biet, yesterday, on a whim, I ordered the bun bo Hue, and it blew my socks off. I might be a convert. The broth was a deep reddish brown with intense flavor. Thick, Hue-style noodles. The identifiable meats were beef eye round, flank, pig knuckle, and chunks of coagulated blood. Table salad of bean sprouts, jalapeƱos, purple cabbage, lime, and basil. Yum!


                                    1. re: Jim Washburn

                                      I think it's the same owner because last time I was there (it was after the name change) they guy with the mole was working there.

                                2. I agree - Tan Tan is the way to go. We have been eating there for over 7 years and the food is always good. I usually get the Bun rather than the Pho, but my favorite are the egg rolls! I've tried a ton of other places in town and appreciate many of them, but Tan Tan the best.

                                  1. We ate at Tan My two days ago. The owner said he had to change the name because of the trademark complaint by a restaurant in Houston.

                                    We are Dallas hounds and go to Hoa May whenever we are in Austin. We like Hoa My better than Tan My. But our experience isn't based on Pho--we always order Bun and fried rice noodle (my most favorite). The owner gave us a bowl of Chicken broth for sampling, but I wasn't impressed. I also like egg rolls at Hoa My better. The owner of Tan My is extremely friendly, though.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: kuidaore

                                      Is Hoa My the place up by the Wal-Mart off of Parmer and I35? I do like that plae quite a bit, but I hardly ever make it up there.

                                      1. re: Homero

                                        Yes. They always have a lot of customers even at later hours. I love Vietnamese food and lived not too far from Little Saigon in CA until 18 months ago. Hoa My is the best Vietnamese restaurant I've found in TX so far (though not as good as my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in CA). Will probably find a better one in Houston while we are there next month :-)

                                        1. re: kuidaore

                                          Where else have you tried? I am a huge fan of Sunflower, Tam Deli, and Pho Huang as well. Have you been to any of those? Whats your take on them? I love the Seafood Bahn Xeo (crispy squid and shrimp crepe), Five Spice Chicken, and Goi Tom Thit (Cabbage Salad with mint, pork and shrimp) at Sunflower, the Bahn Mi sandwiches at Tam Deli, and the Bun at Pho Huang. If you haven't been, I highly recommend them.

                                          Let me know which ones you find in Houston. I went to one called Vietnam Coast over in Houston, and it was good, but nothing better than what I have had in Austin. Also, if you have any recommendations, I am going to be up in the San Jose/Mountain View/San Francisco area for a conference. I don't suppose you know of any good Vietnamese places in that area?

                                          1. re: Homero

                                            I like Seafood Bahn Xeo and Goi Tom Thit. We'll definitely try Sunflower on our next trip to Ausitn.

                                            I lived in San Jose 20 years ago and used to go there a lot on business during the dotcom bubble. I've been to a couple of Vietnamese restaurants near San Jose State Univ. (somewhere on 5th, 6th or 8th St.--You know there's a large population of Vietnamese in San Jose, prob. second after Little Saigon, right?)
                                            Can't remember the names, but happened to find these reviews.

                                            Mountain View is full of Chinese restaurants. There's a very good Funan restaurant in Palo Alto. There's also a good Thai restaurant in San Jose.

                                            1. re: Homero

                                              I've never been to Sunflower, but I'll give the seafood banh xeo at Le Soleil my most enthusiastic recommendation.


                                      2. My favorite Pho is Pho Ga, a chicken broth which is very light. If you're watching fat intake, it's the best choice. And I have tried many places, but the best is Sagaing (12636 Research Blvd) not only for the overall freshness, but for a significant number of slices of chicken breast (many places just have little pieces of left-over dark meats). The place is hard to find, but immaculate and has an extensive menu of Vietmanese dishes.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Dave Zersen

                                          Have to say, the grilled dishes are excellent, the Spring Rolls with peanut dipping sauce and the Shredded Pork Rolls with fish sauce are delicious, the coffee is soul-satisfying and the brothers are super friendly. Sagiang gets a lot of my business.

                                          I enjoy the pho at Sagiang, though it's a completely different version than Tan My (Tan Tan). Sagiang's tends to be lighter (milder, clearer broth) with leaner meats. Still, quite tasty.

                                          1. re: Nakhash

                                            You're right about the Pho Ga, it's lighter and the meats are less fatty. Since I watch my fat intake, that's my reason for preferring it.

                                            1. re: Nakhash

                                              I went by Sagiang today for lunch. It was nice to see a new vietnamese restaurant in town. The decor was very bright and colorful, and homey. Avocado green walls with lots of windows for natural light. The dining areas are partly partitioned by hanging plants whose long leafy vines create a colorful wall. There were also small bouquets of fake flowers which looked nice on the tables. The food was decent in my opinion. It was too hot today for pho, so I had the bun cha gio thit nuong (vermicelli noodle bowl with grilled pork and egg rolls), an order of goi cuon (spring rolls) and a ca phe sua da (viet iced coffee with condensed milk.) The spring rolls were forgettable. Just shrimp, some pork strips, rice noodles and shredded iceburg in a poorly wrapped rice paper sheet. It was a little bland, and tasted kind dry. The peanut dipping sauce that came with it was okay, but I prefer the slightly sweeter, spicier one from Sunflower. These spring rolls were similar to the ones you can get at Kim Phung, which in my opinion, are also forgettable. A little bit of carrot, basil, cilantro or mint would spruce it up nicely.

                                              The vermicelli bowl was pretty good, although it seemed to mostly consist of shredded iceburg. I noticed that the noodles were steaming hot, which was new to me, but didn't affect the taste at all. The grilled pork was good, although it seemed lighter and less seasoned than other places that I frequent. The egg rolls were very good, and I could be wrong, but they seemed meatless. Once again, some ground peanuts, scallions, or cilantro would have made this even better.

                                              The ca phe sua da was good and strong, which I like, although it seemed as if the serving size was kinda small for the price.

                                              Overall, I prefer Sunflower and Tan My as my fave Vietnamese restaurants, but I will go back to try the pho at Sagiang, as well as some of their other dishes.

                                          2. Tan Tan rocks and as far I know Wei (sp?) and his wife still own and run the place.

                                            I haven't noticed the name change.

                                            My favorite dish there is the version of "pho" where it has egg noodles instead of vermicelli and the broth is on the side. i THINK it's the # 35 (or maybe # 31).

                                            the way to order is.... "# 35, large, dry". it is SERIOUSLY delicious.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: bloody hammer

                                              Eleven years ago, when I first moved to Austin, a Vietnamese friend introduced my wife and me to Tan Tan. At the time I was one of the few non-Asians that patronized them and the family operating it were very friendly. My standard order is #10, small. I have been to other places in Austin for pho, but none has measured up to Tan Tan.

                                              Originally Tan Tan was part of a chain, out of Dallas I believe. Last year the family bought out the chain's interest in the restaurant and became the owners of the business. Thus the name change.

                                              1. re: thebodytx

                                                No, the name change is due to the trademark infringement complaint by Tan Tan in Houston.

                                            2. My favorite Pho place in Austin is Pho Saigon at 10901 Lamar. It's pretty new and it's large. It's in a huge Vietnamese strip center.

                                              I think Pho Saigon may be a chain, as I recognize a lot of the shops in this particular strip center from similar ones in Dallas and Houston.

                                              For now, it's still the sort of place where white folks might get some unusual looks, however nobody seems to mind much.

                                              If anybody ever goes to Houston for daytrips, Jenni's Noodle House in Chinatown is the best pho in the USA that I'm aware of, and the place has sort of a "hip" vibe if that matters to you. (Jenni herself is a bit opinionated though. My first time there, I got chided for requesting basil on the side.)


                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: ryansupak

                                                I tried Tan My today based on these reviews and I have to say that I was not impressed at all. The pho and vermicelli are ok, but that's about it. I wouldn't go out of my way (I live in NW Austin) to go back to Tan My. I would like to suggest that you guys try Dragonfly -it's in Lakeline Mall (yes it's in the mall, but if you live in this area, it is a viable option - it's near the movie theater). Their broth is tasty and flavorful. It is also a nicer sit down restaurant - not just a noodle house. They serve chinese food also and there's a bar, I think. They also serve bubble tea. Off topic, they have one of the best pork foo young dishes I have had - and the sauce is not too sweet and comes on the side. Also, for those in NW Austin, the Tea House near Taco Cabana on 183 has good pho also. I always get round eye with brisket. As far as vermicelli, I like charbroiled pork, but hate overly sweet pork - I like a more charbroiled taste than the taste of super sweet sauce on the pork. I have yet to find a vermicelli bowl to satisfy - though I recall there was a Twin Dragon restaurant on Lamar (near T&S) that might have been good - it's been so long - I'll have to re-visit if that restaurant is still even there.

                                                1. re: Iheartjujubee

                                                  I went to Tan My for the first time yesterday (Saturday afternoon, around 3:00) and I enjoyed it a lot. They were fairly busy, most tables were filled, the restroom was very clean and when I washed my hands, the water was hot. I mention the restroom because that is one of my criteria for judging a place - I think if the bathrooms are clean, the kitchen is likely to be clean, too, and if there is no hot water in the bathroom... let's just say ewwww. I have sort of quit Sunflower because of its dirty bathroom.

                                                  Anyway, I had a vermicelli bowl with pork and eggroll, and it was very good. The pork was moist and tasty, the veggies were very fresh, the flavors were excellent.

                                                  The pork spring roll was likewise very good. My friend had pho and he said it was fine, but he didn't rave about it. I eyed the food on neighboring tables on my way to the loo and there were several things I saw that looked very good: a dish with fried noodles topped with what looked like very fresh, perfectly stir-fried veggies, and a noodle bowl with glass noodles.

                                                  I asked our young server what he would recommend since it was my first time there, and he was shy and couldn't come up with anything. I'll definitely go back to Tan My.

                                                  On a different note, I treid Sagiang (on 183) last week and it was horrible. I went in on Sunday at about 4-5pm (granted, an off time) and there was not a single customer in the place. The restaurant was too warm and smelled moldy. I was sitting near the kitchen while I waited for my take-out and I could hear the microwave being used. The take-out was packed in a styro carton that held the chicken and curry sauce in a bundle of plastic wrap that had obviously been microwaved, and the veggies were on the side and did not seem fresh and had apparently been dry-microwaved. The sauce tasted pretty good but the chicken in the dish was inedible, overcooked, dry, and old-tasting. I will not be going back there.