Pho Hoa at 260C Pasteur Street is possibly the largest and most popular pho restaurant in Saigon. Probably the most popular in Vietnam, at least with southerners. Locals slurp in this two-storey institution alongside busloads of Asian package tourists, backpackers and expats. Downstairs tacky paintings of the family adorn one wall, a bonkers-big photo of a bamboo forest is pasted along the length of another wall. This place is always busy and cleaner and more expensive than yer average pho joint. Beware of the team of beggars, shoeshiners and sellers who stalk the front of this restaurant. Better to get a seat away from the front, out back, or upstairs if you want peaceful dining.
I ordered Pho tai (Raw beef noodle soup). On every table there are breadsticks, a three herb plate, freshly cooked beansprouts, sliced chilis, lemons and a plate of pate chau type savoury snacks. The waitress also delivers a plate of bananas mid meal. There’s plenty of soup at Pho Hoa and the white pho noodles are slightly thinner than most pho shacks. There’s not a lot of so-pho-stication to the tepid soup stock here, but there’s a meaty punch in there with plenty of carnivorous depth cutting through the soup. Overall this bowl is generally spice shy, but that meaty tang makes up for the lack of frilly spiced anise edges.
I like tender beef, but unfortunately on this visit the scrummy broth was let down by the quality of the beef. Stringy and chewy and, because the broth wasn’t totally pipin’ hot, some of the meat failed to cook quickly enough. At least it didn’t cook quickly enough for a ravenous lunchtime pieman. The cooked meat – Pho Chin – might be a better option, although that looked a fat laden fiasco. So, you’re probably screwed whichever way you attack it. But, don’t let that put you off trying a bowl of one of Saigon’s more famous pho renditions. And if you’re a nervous pho beginner and/or you don’t wanna go ‘too local’ – Pho Hoa fits the bill. A bowl of Pho bo tai will set you back 20,000VD. Breadsticks are 1,000VD a shot, Iced tea (Cha Da) also 1,000VD. Want more pho? Interesting article by Alex Renton in The Observer last month on pho up the road in Hanoi.