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Mar 22, 2014 05:16 PM

Where is the Best Vegetarian Pho in San Diego

I recently moved to San Diego from Seattle. I had a favorite pho restaurant in Seattle called Than Brothers. The pho had just that right taste of spices, and just the right amount of noodles and tofu. It was served with fresh sprouts, basil, jalapenos, and lime. It was also served with little cream puff desserts. I miss it and was wondering if there was anything comparable. I went to OB noodle house and it was ok but the broth was missing the spices. Any ideas out there? Thank you!

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  1. You'll have to ask for banh pho noodles (because only mi and hu tieu are on the menu), but the best Vietnamese vegetarian noodle soup I know of is the Rau Cai Chay Nuoc at Phuong Trang on Convoy.

    Having said that, I usually think of pho as having been made with a beef stock (or chicken, for pho ga), and very importantly has anise as one of the spices in it. (Ipsedixit: Chime in and correct me if I'm wrong about this.) The vegetarian noodle soup at Phuong Trang doesn't contain anise (or if it does, it's not very noticeable) but is delicious in its own right.

    If you want traditional beef pho broth with and all the trimmings, but with tofu substituting for the meat, I'm guessing that Phuong Trang will be happy to make it that way for you.

    For conventional pho tai, the hands down best broth in San Diego is at Pho Hoa, in Linda Vista. (Ask them to go light on the noodles.)

    Alas, no little cream puff desserts served along with the pho at either place, though.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I haven't had it, but I'm sure the vegetarian ramen at Underbelly is good. But is ramen what OP wants?

          1. re: DoctorChow

            Vegetarian pho is sort of like a poke in the eye to nature.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Yeah, ok. I've never heard of it either. But I'm thinking that evidently a restaurant in Seattle somewhere serves Vietnamese pho broth with thin rice noodles, etc., substituting tofu for beef, and that the OP is looking for something as similar as possible to enjoy.

              1. re: DoctorChow

                At the end of the day, if we're talking vegetarian iterations of these two types of noodles, how much difference is there, really, between a bowl of vegetarian phở and a bowl of vegetarian ramen?

                Yes, the noodles will differ but that's a really a minor detail when comparing phở versus ramen cuz both are sort of afterthoughts, especially when talking about the former.

                So then you have the broth. To me phở chay is basically vegetable broth spiked with seasonings and condiments. Vegetarian ramen broth, on the other hand, while also relying on vegetable stock (and condiments) also uses miso (sans Dashi, of course) which gives it an immutable step up in savoriness and overall mouth mirth.

                So if you ask me the best vegetarian phở is maybe as good as a mediocre bowl of vegetarian ramen. If that.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I guess the "vegetarian noodle soup" that I've had at Phuong Trang is close to being "pho chay", but served with mi or hu tieu noodles, not banh pho. I've been educated.

                  I think it's pretty tasty, but I'll have to try the vegetarian ramen at Underbelly sometime. I only rarely order vegetarian dishes and I'm not particularly a tofu fan, so I tend to ignore those parts of a menu.

        2. May I please ask someone to define what "vegetarian'" means?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Gypsy Jan


            It's whatever the "vegetarian" wants it to be.

            1. re: Gypsy Jan

              According to the webpage of Than Brothers the vegetarian pho is 100% vegetarian (broth and other ingredients). No animal was harmed or even looked at the pho

              1. re: honkman

                Ha! Somehow I read the OP too quickly and skipped right over the Than Bros. part. I just looked at their menu also, and I see that they have a vegetarian pho listed.

                I think that vegetarian, at least in this case, means exactly what it says. Veggies only. Yes, not even looked at by any animal other than a human.

            2. Now that I better understand what the OP is looking for, I see that Bale restaurant in Linda Vista has Pho Chay on their menu (photo).

              I mention this not because it's necessarily the "best", but because I frequent this place quite regularly and many of the menu items can be very good, although there can be some day-to-day variation in quality. In particular I can't speak for the Pho Chay there because I've never even looked at the vegetarian section of their menu, let alone had this item. But I think it would be worth trying.

              I still recommend that the OP try the Rau Cai Chay Nuoc at Phuong Trang. Even ipse might enjoy it.

              1. So off I went to Bale today to try the Pho Chay (the second word is pronounced, I found out, "jai", rhyming with "eye").

                This was the real thing I guess, and came complete with banh pho and the usual pho sides including limon (although these days, since limes are so expensive for whatever reasons, all the places are giving you LEMON wedges -- not the same!), basil, bean sprouts, and jalapeno slices -- but alas no sawtooth coriander, which I like.

                There was no flat crunchy thing on top (don't know what it's called) as is shown in the online menu photo I copied and attached previously. Except for that, it was pretty much as described and pictured. A nice generous, filling bowl. Good for a gray, chilly day.

                The broth was very light and subdued -- to a fault I thought, actually, although maybe that's the way it's supposed to be, like some Chinese soup broths. There was a faint but distinct hint of anise to it, and I was happy enough.

                Still, after a while I thought it needed some ummph, so I asked the server (who didn't speak English very well) for some of that delicious pink-colored vinegar you can get in some Vietnamese restaurants. He didn't have a clue as to what I was talking about until I gave up and said "yum" (no idea how that's spelled, but that's how it's prounounced in Vietnamese). Then he went off and brought a shaker jar of it for me. I love "yum" with things like mi xa xiu, etc., and it went well in this soup. Usually the servers, especially the young ones, don't understand me when I ask for "yum", but this time it was the other way around. The server was clearly first-generation.

                But the server then strongly suggested that I also add some sriracha and some hoisin, which I did in careful moderation, especially the hoisin. Mixed in well, these did improve the flavor a lot, as did the "yum". I guess it's like adding hot sauce to a Mexican dish. You don't have to, but if you do it does impact the flavor dramatically.

                Long story short, the pho chay at Bale was good but not great, and no competition for the hu tieu rau cai chay nuoc at Phong Trang, which is it's closest counterpart in my limited vegetarian experience. (Rau cai is "cabbage", and hu tieu means wide or thick rice noodles, not the same thing as banh pho, which are thin rice noodles, but close in taste.)

                2 Replies
                1. re: DoctorChow

                  Long story short, the pho chay at Bale was good but not great, and no competition for the hu tieu rau cai chay nuoc at Phong Trang, which is it's closest counterpart in my limited vegetarian experience.

                  That's not really a fair, nor apt, comparison.

                  That's sort of like saying the steamed vegetables were ok but a bit bland, and certainly no comparison to my roasted vegetables.

                  One has to do a lot of doctoring (as you found out with the condiments) to make a bowl of vegetarian pho taste savory. Stir-frying, even with corn oil, just naturally lends itself to more flavor opportunities.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Just asking,

                    If you have to "Make it Better", then it was not p\made well in the first place?