Where to eat the best pho in Ho Chi Minh City
Pho is one of the world’s great comfort foods, and fans are spoiled for choice in Vietnam’s southern hub. Here are our tips on where to find the best pho in old Saigon.
- November 2017
Although regarded as a northern invention, pho is as ubiquitous in Ho Chi Minh City as it is in Hanoi, its spiritual home. At restaurants around the city, you’ll find hungry locals hunched over steaming bowls of beef and chicken noodle soup. And for good reason—pho is one of the world’s great comfort foods, and with long-standing independents vying with specialist mini-chains, pho fans are spoiled for choice in Vietnam’s southern hub. Here are our tips on where to find the best pho in old Saigon.
Pho: Vietnam’s iconic bowl
Vietnam’s de facto national dish and one of the country’s most famous food exports. Despite its popularity, pho is a relatively recent invention, dating back to the late 19th century when it originated in the provinces around Hanoi. The dish has transcended its northern roots to gain popularity around the nation.
Pho’s killer app is its slow-cooked broth, wafting scents of ginger, star anise, cinnamon and cloves. It’s piled with rice noodles and tender meat (usually beef or chicken); the giant mounds of pungent fresh herbs with which the Saigonese like to garnish their bowls are a southern addition to the winning formula.
Pho Hoa Pasteur: the Saigon institution
The name of this restaurant will be familiar to anyone who has ventured into a Vietnamese neighbourhood overseas. When setting up in a foreign country, homesick southern exiles frequently brand their restaurants in honour of this venerable establishment, one of the oldest in Ho Chi Minh City. And the southern-style pho here is worthy of its widespread imitation. Generous portions and plentiful extras—herbs, bean sprouts and gio chao quay (fried breadsticks)—complement the clear, balanced broth and fresh, soft rice noodles.
Location: 260C Pasteur Street, District 1
Pho Tau Bay: a taste of Hanoi in the south
A veteran dating back to 1954, Pho Tau Bay is highly regarded for its purist approach. Set up by emigres from Nam Dinh Province in northern Vietnam, it’s home to simple, almost austere, northern-style pho. And, while the owners have relented to local tastes and introduced limited accompaniments, it’s the outstanding soup stock—tinged with subtle hints of star anise, cinnamon and burnt ginger—that is the main attraction.
Location: 433 Ly Thai To Street, District 10
Pho Le: a rich and addictive broth
With its two city branches almost permanently packed with patrons, Pho Le deserves its reputation as a reliable crowd-pleaser. Its popularity is due, in part, to its famously rich broth, thicker than other versions and bubbled with fat. With such a decadent base to build on, the pho here doesn’t fail to deliver in spades. Of the meats on offer, the rare steak and peppery beef balls are delicious. The restaurant’s southern roots, meanwhile, come to the fore in the veritable hedgerow of herbs and steaming mound of warmed bean sprouts presented alongside the bowls.
Location: 413-415 Nguyen Trai, District 5
Pho Quynh: sustenance in the backpacker district
If you’re a traveller on a budget, there’s a fair chance that your first pitstop in Ho Chi Minh City will be the Pham Ngu Lao neighbourhood, the city’s backpacker enclave. If that’s the case, you couldn’t do better than making your first bowl of pho the version at Pho Quynh, which stands like a neon-lit sentinel at one of the area’s busiest junctions. It’s a fine place to start any Vietnamese food odyssey, its hearty broth forging a joyous union with generous portions of different beef cuts.
Location: 323 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1
Pho Phuong 25: a canal-side connoisseur’s choice
It’s not exactly a rule of thumb, but the presence of northerners in the kitchen is a reliable stamp of quality when it comes to pho. That’s the case at Pho Phuong 25, with its pleasant location by the banks of the Thi Nghe canal. A family from Hanoi owns the restaurant and their heritage shines through in a fully flavoured broth, which carries more depth and bite than the sweeter southern-style soup. Cinnamon notes dominate, with a supporting cast of star anise and cloves; the sideshow is provided by sawtooth coriander and basil leaves.
Location: 25 Hoang Sa, District 1