West Phoenix Vietnamese restaurant Pho 43 carries on family legacy | Phoenix New Times

5 siblings serve their mom's recipes at this West Valley pho shop

As the second generation steers Pho 43 into the future, they ensure their mom's legacy lives on.
Pho 43 has been serving customers for 32 years. The small restaurant's best-seller is Dac Biet Xe Lua, a soup combining steak, brisket, flank, tendon and tripe.
Pho 43 has been serving customers for 32 years. The small restaurant's best-seller is Dac Biet Xe Lua, a soup combining steak, brisket, flank, tendon and tripe. Mike Madriaga
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On the west side of Phoenix at Pho 43, loyal customers and newbies alike sip piping hot Vietnamese stews — no matter the record-high temperatures in the Valley.

On a recent visit, the pink-and-white colored mom-and-pop restaurant on the southwest corner of 43rd Avenue and Thomas Road was packed.

"Throughout the day, it's always like this," says David Nguyen, one of the five siblings running the Vietnamese restaurant. "We stay at capacity all day. We sit about 46 people..." Mid-sentence during the interview, he looks back at a customer, "Did you want a plastic bag for that?" he asks.

Then, with a nod toward his older sister Binh and a quick conversation in Vietnamese, she bags the customer's leftover box and briskly assists a DoorDash driver at the counter. The family works like clockwork.

"At first, we didn't want to be here; we were just kids sort of forced to work," Nguyen says. "I used to sleep on the chairs when my mom cleaned up."

Nguyen, the second eldest of the brothers and sisters, was ten when his parents and their partners at the time opened the pho shop in 1992.

"We grew up in this place, so we learned stuff like kitchen prep, food prep and making drinks," he continues. "We developed a love for it and appreciation for it."

Now 41, Nguyen manages the shop, greets and mingles with customers, takes orders and helps cook in the kitchen. He's a popular figure in the community.

"A lot of our customers are our friends," he says. "I met my closest friends here at the restaurant."

Some newbie friends ask, "What is pho?"

Nguyen explains.

"Pho is a Vietnamese cuisine, but there are different uses of herbs and spices," he says. "In the end, it's just noodles, beef broth and meat."
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Pho 43's dining room seats 46 people and the little restaurant is always packed.
Gabby Madriaga
The restaurant's best seller is the $12.99 pho beef noodle soup or Dac Biet Xe Lua, a soup combining steak, brisket, flank, tendon and tripe.

"It's cooked in a pot that we run the whole day," Nguyen says. "We go through about four pots a day. We cook beef bone, flank and brisket. It takes anywhere between seven and eight hours per pot."

Nguyen's younger brother Michael, wasn't present during our visit, as he was picking up the various meats, poultry, seafood and veggies for the soups.

When the family serves the giant 10-inch bowls of pho, they provide a plate of veggies on the side, including mint leaves, bean sprouts and lime wedges, which the diners can add at their discretion. The crispy bean sprouts add texture, a hint of sweetness and a peanut-like flavor to the broth.

Other popular options are Pho Tai Bo Vien, which comes with steak and meatballs, and Pho Tom which comes with shrimp. There's also a plant-based broth pho packed with veggies. One of the restaurant's essentials is Pho Ga, made with chicken.

"My mom used a whole chicken to make this broth, and we still do that to this day," Nguyen says.

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A grilled pork plate, Com Thit Nuong, with additional grilled chicken and a fried egg.
Gabby Madriaga
Historians say pho originated in the late 1800s when French colonialists built silk manufacturing plants in Vietnam. While the colonists consumed beef, Vietnamese cooks added the leftover cuts and bones to another type of noodle soup to make pho.

Since its humble beginnings, pho has become popular around the world. Pho 43 serves two varieties of the noodle soup. One has rice noodles, which are flat and become a mix of transparent and cloudy when boiled, and the other features bun, or vermicelli noodles, which are round and turn a darker shade when cooked.

The Nguyens pair grilled or shredded pork with vermicelli. Bun Nuoc Leo is a hybrid vermicelli noodle soup with spicy fish broth, pork, shrimp and fish pieces.

"It is something our mom came up with," Nguyen explains. "She tasted it somewhere and made it on her own with the fish soup."

Nguyen's parents were both born in southern Vietnam. They immigrated to the U.S. and settled in San Diego. Then, in 1992, the family relocated to Phoenix to start the pho business.

"Mainly, my mom wanted a soup restaurant," Nguyen recounts. "We moved here when I was ten, and our dad kept his job with the City of San Diego for security. You never know how a restaurant will do."

Their father trekked the six-hour drive back and forth every weekend, and the children helped their mom at the restaurant. Now, the second generation runs the show.

"My older sister Binh is here every day," Nguyen says. "My sister Nancy and brother Michael work in the day-to-day operation; it's us four." The fifth sibling, Cindy, manages the restaurant's social media.
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The Pho 43 kitchen serves an appetizer called Banh Xeo, a hearty yellow-tinged flour crepe stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork.
Gabby Madriaga
On Pho 43's Instagram page, there's a screenshot of when Phoenix New Times awarded the restaurant the Best Vietnamese Restaurant accolade in 2018. There are also photos of the savory com or rice platters.

"We have the traditional rice dishes," Nguyen adds. "You have the grilled pork plate, Com Thit Nuong, and I added grilled chicken with fried egg on top of the rice."

He suggests adding the nuoc cham sauce to the chicken, pork and rice.

"Mix it up," he says. "It brings the flavors, everything together."

The amber-colored sauce is a tangy meld of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and carrots. It is also a flavorful condiment when dipping deep-fried egg, pork and tofu rolls.

Other appetizer options include Banh Xeo, a hearty yellow-tinged flour crepe stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork and Goi Cuon, shrimp and pork spring rolls that are served cold.

Other cold treats at Pho 43 are on the custom drink menu. Xi Moui is a salty plum and soda water mix, Che Ba Mau is a three-colored and layered dessert drink and Sinh To Mit is a smoothie made from hefty and spiky jackfruits. Ice-cold Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk is popular too.

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The Goi Cuon shrimp and pork spring rolls are served cold, wrapped in fresh, white-colored rice paper, and can be dipped in sweet peanut sauce.
Mike Madriaga
The five Nguyen kids now have children of their own. And if you're lucky, you'll catch all three generations helping one another at the always-bustling pho shop. Nguyen's 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son "hang out during summer," he says.

"I put them to a little bit of work just to show them some work ethic and show them it's not easy," he says.

When Nguyen's parents started the pho shop, they ran it from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The siblings remember their mom coming home at 10 p.m.

In 2013, the five children stepped up to take the reins of the Nguyen business, continuing the family legacy. But there was a slight change at the pass of the baton.

"We open from 9 to 5 every day," Nguyen says. "We also wanted to have a life outside of the restaurant. We want to have dinner with our families, enjoy a little life when the sun is out and have fun."

As the second generation steers Pho 43 into the future, they ensure that their mother’s culinary legacy lives on, enriching the lives of their customers and their own growing families.

"Our mom laid the groundwork for us just to pick up and keep it running," Nguyen concludes. "We do work hard, but it was already set up for us to win that way."

Pho 43

2844 N. 43rd Ave.

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