I know right now everyone is talking cookies and tofurkey, eggnog and chocolate, but I’ve got another kind of winter warmer on my mind – pho. Pho is food I crave basically anytime I’m feeling a cold coming on, or anytime it is raining or grey (so basically October to March here on the West Coast, unless you are the Winter of 2016/2017 and then you were nothing but sunny and ice-freakin’-cold so same-same, really). I know ramen is all the rage, but as far as I can tell, ramen has not taken hold of New West the way pho has.
What you like about pho is probably different than what I like about pho, so your results will almost assuredly vary from me. For me, it’s about the broth, primarily, but also about how well assembled all the bits are, and what the noodles are like. If you’re not familiar with pho, it is a Vietnamese noodle soup. It is typically made with beef broth, though a few restaurants have been introducing vegetarian versions. In New West, there is also V Cafe on the corner of Carnarvon and 8th Street, and I haven’t included them here because it’s really hard to compare a vegetarian version of pho with the beef broth version. But, the V Cafe is definitely worth a stop in as their daily specials are usually an awesome price and their menu is more than just vegetarian pho.
If you’re a pho-novice or have never tried it, Vincent and Mikey Kha, a father-son duo who own a pho restaurant give you a good primer of what goes into pho and how to eat it, plus a little note on pronunciation (which is why I didn’t call this post the “New West Pho-Down” despite that being a really incredible pun opportunity).
Pho is also typically cheap, hot, and fresh, with a special emphasis on the cheap part. I once considered making pho at home, but I cannot duplicate the quality you’ll get at even the crappiest restaurant for the price you typically pay, because of the work required and the long list of ingredients you need. Campbell’s recently came out with pho broth, but it’s somewhat telling that if you Google that, you will get next to no results returned that aren’t generated from Campbell’s themselves.
For “science” for this Pho Tour, I ordered the same thing from each restaurant as best as I was able (small pho tai which is pho with rare beef steak in it, with ham and shrimp salad rolls, and tea), and I also consistently went at lunch. I applied a $ to $$$ rating based on what my bill was, rather than give you the specific bill amount, since that will change over time anyway.
The TL; DR winner here in New West is Saigon Ivy, but read on for the details of the five restaurants I tried.
Saigon Ivy, at 520 6th Street in Uptown New West is my clear winner. They have the best service of all five restaurants I visited, and their broth had the most robust flavours. It was salty without being too salty, and had the most depth. Their salad rolls come with both ham and shrimp and were nicely moist and their peanut sauce was the best of the bunch They also came in as one of the cheaper restaurants. The bowl size was ample. $$
Pho Chung Nam is uptown as well, located at 522 Sixth Avenue. They had a pretty robust menu of other things besides pho, so they do a very brisk lunch business and they’ve been around for ages. Service is great. Their salad rolls are just prawn, and they only offer their pho as a one size. It is piping hot, and comes out really fast, and the tea never stops. $$
Pho Chan is over on the east side, in Royal Square Mall at 800 McBride Boulevard. Downsides for me are that their salad rolls don’t have ham, just shrimp, and the restaurant is set up so that you can’t not watch TV, usually set to cooking shows.Pluses: the staff are friendly and service is decent. Plus, they use a deeper style of spoon than the typical white plastic pho spoon, which I liked. Their broth was nothing to write home about, but didn’t offend either, and that’s basically the entire restaurant’s review – nothing to rave about, but nothing bad. Pricing was slightly higher than I expected for what I got, but I didn’t feel it was out of line: $$$.
Pho Pho You is the newest pho restaurant here in town, located downtown at 441 Columbia Street. I’d heard a lot of buzz about them when I visited, and I walked away a bit disappointed. Their pricing was good, and their broth was decent, but they were out of basil – an essential ingredient in pho – which was surprising. The rare beef steak was cut way too thick so it was hard to eat or even pull apart and there were waaaayyyy too many onions in the bowl. And, despite being the only person in the restaurant, I had to ask three times to get my tea refilled. $$
Pho Maxima was once my favourite, back when it was located on Edmonds and Canada Way, but has fallen far down the list, though the food is still pretty decent. Now located on the west side at 822 20th Street, it’s not the easiest to get to via transit. Unfortunately, the parking lot is a nightmare because of the other tenants in the strip mall (a preschool and a daycare and a pizza joint who will come out and yell at you if you park in front of their shop despite nothing being marked) and the restaurant is probably the coldest room I’ve ever sat in – most likely from the plywood door. They need some physical improvements badly to their space and it really ruined what used to be a reliable experience for me. They were less expensive than the others I went to, but the the food wasn’t great enough that it made it easy to overlook everything else. $