A good bowl of pho is only as good as its ingredients. Start with thinly sliced beef and al dente rice noodles, then load up on fresh basil, bean sprouts and scallions. Finish with a squeeze of lime, and you’ve got a soup brimming to the top with beefy goodness.
Spring Mountain Road just west of the Strip may be called Chinatown, but there’s more Vietnamese restaurants down this stretch than you can shake a chopstick at. And here is where the pho is.
First, it’s pronounced “fuh,” as in “duh,” not “foe,” like this bowl of soup is your enemy. In fact, pho is your friend, and it’s there to comfort you even though you butcher its name the first few times. Pho is the homie you want around late at night, when you’re hungover, or when you just want a quick lunch. Pho’s got your back. Duh.
If you’ve never met pho before, it’s a Vietnamese beef noodle soup. A good pho broth is deep in beef flavor and has great body, thanks to a long simmer of beef bones, oxtail and aromatics such as charred ginger and onion. It should also be fragrant with herbs and spices such as star anise, cardamom and cinnamon; you should get a good heady whiff when the steaming bowl, filled to the brim, hits your table. The rice noodles are long and thin, and should be slightly al dente, not mushy.
Where’s the Pho?
Pho So 1
A popular late-night spot not only for the soup, but also for its seven courses of beef. 4745 W. Spring Mountain Rd., 252-3934, PhoSo1.com.
Pho Saigon 8
Now with outposts both in Chinatown and Green Valley, Pho Saigon 8’s serious broth can be had on both sides of town. 5650 W. Spring Mountain Rd., 248-6663; 9055 S. Eastern Ave., Suite 1C, 629-3100.
Pho Kim Long
If you’re snickering, you said it right. The closest, quality pho restaurant to the Strip is open 24 hours. 4029 W. Spring Mountain Rd., 220-3613.
If you really, really like pho, Pho 87 offers the PHOzilla challenge: Finish 10 pounds of pho in 87 minutes and you win the cash award that grows with each challenge. Fail? Pony up $40 that gets added to the pot. 3620 S. Jones Blvd., 233-8787, Pho87.net.
Pho Kinh Do
I just like saying the name. And you “pho kinh do,” too. And they have banh mi sandwiches! 4300 W. Spring Mountain Rd., 253-0199, PhoKinhDo.com.
Pho is a DIY affair—pick your meats and customize it to your own taste using whatever’s on the table. But taste the soup first before you put anything in it: If the broth is that good, you won’t need to do much.
Pho is a meat-based soup, so meat is pretty much what you want in it. The most popular options are tai (rare, thin-sliced steak), nam (flank) or gau (brisket), which is fully cooked and tender. Then we start to move into the nasty bits, better known as offal: there’s gan (tendon) or sach (tripe). But if you want to dive in for a real pho-tastic experience, go big with the pho dac biet, which literally means “special noodle soup,” as it’s got every meat on the menu.
There’s a plate full of vegetables—a couple of lime wedges, some basil still on the stem, sliced fresh jalapeños and a mountain of bean sprouts—sitting in front of you. That is not a salad; it’s what you’ll use to make your pho your pho.
Need to brighten things up? Give it a squeeze of lime (but don’t throw the wedge in; it’ll make the whole bowl bitter). Need some heat? Add slivers of jalapeño. Want to balance against the earthiness of the soup? Shred a few of the basil leaves. And bean sprouts … well, they don’t taste like anything, but they do add some nice crunch to contrast against the chewy, soft noodles.
You know what the red bottle with the rooster is—it’s sriracha. The brown bottle might not be as familiar to you unless you’re a fan of dim sum. It’s hoisin—thick, sweet and a little tangy, like a Chinese barbecue sauce. Be careful, as a little goes a long way. If you really want to look like a pro, squeeze the sauces next to each other in one of the small bowls that are on the table. Use this as a dipping sauce for whatever meats you put in your soup.
Condiments at the ready? Check. Bowl of steaming soup topped with vegetables? Check. Chopsticks in one hand, soupspoon in the other? Check. Pho yeah!