There are few things more comforting than a big bowl of soup on a cold(ish) winter night. The great thing about pho (pronounced like fuh, not foh fo' the n00bz) is that you don't have to sacrifice flavor and spice for that comfort. This Vietnamese staple has blown up in the Valley over the past few years and it seems like there's a new pho house popping up on every corner.
For this battle, we pit two near neighboring restaurants against each other, both known for their authenticity, to see which will win. To make it a fair fight, we compared the pho tai at each place, a version that includes thinly-sliced rare beef that cooks in the hot broth from the kitchen to the table.
In This Corner: Pho Thanh
The Setup:It's always a good sign when the pho joint you choose is nestled between other Vietnamese shops, and Pho Thanh fits that bill. The restaurant is almost always full, although they cycle customers in and out quickly with efficient service and fast food prep times. The décor is pretty plain, though it has some nice elements of cheesy outdated wall decorations. Our favorites are the pictures of women knitting and sewing.
The Good:While we didn't feel the broth at Pho Thanh was anything to write home about, we always welcome generous helpings of herbs, jalapenos and lime, along with a few scoops of chili garlic sauce, to help jazz it up. One of our favorite ways to clear out our sinuses and ward away sickness in the cold(ish) months is with a super spiced up bowl of pho, and in that way, Pho Thanh provided the perfect blank canvas to build our cold remedy.
The Bad: The broth of Pho Thanh's pho tai is visibly oily. We aren't scared away by oils and fats, but we don't believe they always indicate flavor either. The noodles in the pho were also clumped together in a way that constant prodding and twirling of our chopsticks couldn't loosen. We already feel silly enough trying to use them while eating long rice noodles, without having to battle our food for a bite.
In The Other Corner: Da Vang
The Setup: Da Vang is the sort of restaurant we could picture Anthony Bourdain walking into and being totally stoked. It's basic, and frankly underwhelming, located in a small strip mall off 19th Avenue and Campbell. It doesn't look like much, and, in fact, even looks sort of questionable with its den-like ambiance and obviously from the 80's table and chair sets, but the clientele should pretty much say it all. If you're up for authentic Vietnamese eats, go where the Vietnamese go, order what they do and enjoy.
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The Good: We've frequented pho places all over the Valley and the rare beef in Da Vang's Pho Tai is easily the most moist and well-prepared of them all. We usually try to save a few pieces for the carryout bowl, but it was gone before we knew it. The noodles were also well executed. We've certainly had our fair share of pho that centered around a blob of overcooked noodles, and its nice to feel a little bit of texture in noodles--after all, not everything should melt in your mouth.
The Bad: Their Pho Tai logically uses beef broth, but a friend of ours ordered their pho with the pork broth and it was definitely the better way to go. Both were flavorful, but we think their Pho Tai substituted with the pork broth would have really put it over the top. Plus, we like more veggies in our pho than Da Vang provided.
And the winner is . . . Da Vang. If you're looking for a spot to introduce a friend to pho, Pho Thanh is definitely less intimidating in terms of ambiance. However, Da Vang's flavorful broth and delectably moist rare beef make for a better pho eating experience. The clumped noodles and oily base at Pho Thanh set it back just enough for Da Vang to edge out the competition.