LFM: about pho in RVA …

With the closing of the Fan restaurant, “Friend or Pho” after just 5 months of operation, it got me wondering what contributed to its quick demise. Is it true that the food bloggers and twitterers brought it down, or was it simply a bad concept in the first place? I never had interest in trying out the place, my reason being that, with a name , uh, like that, how serious could the food be? I heard that the beer selection was great, but then I don’t drink beer so that was hardly a draw. Whoever thought of that irreverent name should have just considered opening in the West End, it might have had better longevity. Opening in the Fan which is like the center of “foodiedom” is like daring to be eaten alive.

I’m no expert in Vietnamese cuisine, neither is pho my favorite noodle bowl in town. That honor would be the Hong Kong style roast duck noodle soup at Full Kee. However, when I was a newbie in Richmond, I was lucky enough to have a Cambodian co-worker. She was married to a “whitey” (her words, not mine) whom she couldn’t drag out for noodle soup for breakfast. So on some Sundays, she would pick me up at my house at 9:00 am and we would drive to RVA’s little Chinatown on Horsepen and eat at Pho So 1. Her dad and aunt live in the area and know all the little gossip going around there, including where the best place is for Asian ethnic food (usually at someone’s house). That early in the morning, Pho So 1 is packed…with Asians (think first-generation)…which speaks well for its authenticity.

I’ve gone and tried other phos around town like Mekong and Dalat but none of them had the same vibe as the ones from Pho So 1. I’m sure all these restaurants have their devoted following but it’s like this with me: I live in the West End, Dalat is nearer by proximity and if I’m lazy to make the drive and want Vietnamese cuisine, then I’d settle for their food but if I have to drive all the way to Horsepen, it’ll always be Pho So 1.

phobowl copy
A cloudy broth detracts from a great tasting bowl of pho

So I find myself driving there this morning, I had a sudden craving for tendon and tripe which, by the way, Mekong and Dalat do not serve. I got there right before 11:00 am and yes there were already a few diners slurping soup. I observed who their customers were at that time – mostly older Asian folks that reminded me of my grandma’s friends.

There had been complaints about their food on online review sites like Yelp. Their fresh spring rolls – I agree- I miss the herbs in them as they do not taste like anything without the peanut sauce. The pho and the lack of meat – I disagree – plenty enough meat in my opinion. The broth had a great aroma and a robust beef flavor, but what disconcerted me for a moment was its unusual cloudiness. Not sure if I was just being more observant today or it has always been that way. I know for a good quality pho broth you need to keep it clear and free of impurities, but you know, maybe someone just forgot the broth and let it boil. And at a place like this, that does not aspire for any foodie approval, all you can do is suck it up. 😉

Barbecue beef broken rice

Anyway, my favorite Vietnamese dish is not Pho but barbecue broken rice. And I must say Pho so 1’s broken rice plates are my favorite. They’re not excessively sweet or salty like most “Americanized” versions, and you “taste” the fire from the grill which is exactly what I’d expect from these dishes. I made sure to order some for dinner tonight and we enjoyed it immensely.

barbecue pork chop and broken rice

So, do you have a favorite Vietnamese restaurant where you live?


9 thoughts on “LFM: about pho in RVA …

  1. As I commented on Twitter last night, I love tendon (and tripe!) in pho, but they are often not available options in some places. Back in Minnesota, our favorite Vietnamese resto was Quang where we almost always ordered pho (except for the occasional *bun*, my other fave dish).

    Here in Manila, we’re still looking for a good spot. One, Ban Hoi in Makati, is promising but offers only 2 pho – sliced beef and seafood. Pho Hoa, the international chain, is a fallback but the search continues… 😎

  2. The vietnamese restaurant that took over the Franco’s spot on Broad (the name escapes me) In the same shopping strip with India Karaja, has tendon and tripe in one of it’s pho versions. I’ve had it and thought it was good, although I also don’t count myself as a connoisseur of pho.

  3. Hi Tangled Noodle – I’ll ask my brothers where good pho could be found in Philippines, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t have tendon or tripe in it.
    Rosa – very true….
    Eugenio – you know you’ve got me curious and I’m already plotting to try it out. 🙂
    Stephanie – we used to go to house of vietnam a lot when we lived in the wellesly area. nice couple own that place. Give pho so 1 a try, it’s a different environment though than mekong and dalat. 🙂

  4. Veron, Per usual, I completely agree with everything you said! I woke up to this post yesterday in my google reader and insisted on pho for dinner last night! Not that it takes much to get me in a pho mood…
    I think Friend or Pho definitely brought about their own undoing. Food bloggers just had the foresight to see what a silly idea the whole operation was from the beginning!

  5. Pho So 1, hands down, is where it at! I’ve tried others like Mekong, Saigon, and even Friend or Pho. None of them compare to the authentic Pho you’ll get at Pho So 1. Especially Friend or Pho. I thought their Pho was very poorly made and very tasteless. I think that they were focusing more on the beer than the food. SMH! I went to Pho So 1 almost 3 times a week for about a year. I don’t go often anymore but even when I do, after months of not being there, the servers still remember me and my usual order. 🙂 So not only is it the best Pho in Richmond but it has really great service!

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