Pho Bo / Vietnamese Beef Pho Soup


The stormy weather in Manila during the past week has influenced our menus, and we have been hankering for warm, comforting soups. And one of our favorite soups of all time has to be a Vietnamese Pho (sorry, can’t figure out how to put the proper accents on that foreign word). I once spent a few weeks in Vietnam for work, mostly in Hanoi, with a quick side trip to Saigon (I like it’s old name better than Ho Chi Minh), and everywhere I tried a pho, whether at a hoity toity hotel or restaurant or streetside vendor, it was absolutely delicious. The broth tasted like it had been brewing for hours and hours, and it didn’t seem to have an artificial cube of anything (though for all I know, they used some). Besides the flavorful broth, the noodles also seemed top notch, still a bit chewy from being so fresh, and the herbs were fragrant beyond belief… obviously natively grown and recently picked. I got the feeling that each purveyor of pho would rather sink into a vat of burning oil than serve a sub-standard pho.


In the past few months, we have tried several Vietnamese restaurants in Manila, and NONE, had a pho worth going back for. I won’t even say which ones we tried, but the pho ranged from slightly better than dish water to weak, characterless soup. Many had the right smells, after all, star anise comes cheap, but the beefiness of the broth was definitely not up to snuff. So in the past month or so, Mrs. MM has attempted to make Pho broth from scratch on two occasions, and this second attempt was very good indeed. I won’t repeat the recipe here, from Andrea Nguyen’s book “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen”, as it is involved and takes at least two days, but suffice it to say you need flavorful beef bones and meat, lots and lots of it, star anise, charred ginger, charred onions, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, nuoc nam and rock sugar and a lot of patience… And when you serve this, you need lots of herbs served on the side. Yum, comfort food at its finest!

P.S. If readers know of any truly good phos at local Vietnamese restaurants, Mrs. MM and I would really appreciate your recommendations… Thanks!



69 Responses

  1. I think eating Pho in Vietnam spoils one’s taste buds forever. You can instantly spot a mediocre broth. I was lucky enough to visit Saigon for my girlfriend’s wedding several years ago and every Pho I had was excellent. Luckily, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant here in Oahu makes an excellent one. I just wish fewer people knew about it because there is always a long wait to get in!!

  2. I fully agree MM. Since trying Pho in Vietnam a few years ago, I just haven’t been able to find one that comes close to the real thing. In my search, I’ve had lots of watery-hardly filling-bland soup.

  3. Australia, i think, offers very good Pho outside Vietnam due to its quite sizeable Vietnamese community. They grow their own herbs and produce rice noodles locally. Added to that, the very good quality of Australian beef…

    Pho used to be my no 1 choice but now i’m a Bun bo Hue addict…Bun bo Hue has got a bit more character and punch!

    One indicator of a good Pho shop is, of course, when “locals” actually flock to it, and when there’s not very much on offer except for Pho (or Bun bo Hue)…

    Thanks for this post Marketman!

  4. Unfortunately we do not have authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Manila anymore. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when there was a wave of Vietnamese refugees in the country, there were a couple of good Vietnamese restaurants around. They were owned and run by Vietnamese themselves. Most of them have moved to other countries like Australia where you find them in communities.

    Many years ago there was “Vietnam Food House” which opened near the Pasay City Hall when the Asian Development Bank was still located nearby. When it relocated to Pasig, the owner Nguyen Annie” de Lemos (Vietnamese married to a pinoy)followed and opened in Megamall. That has since closed down but she still caters for ADB to this day. She also used to teach Vietnamese cooking at Cafe Ysabel. I was fortunate to take up a class under her.

    Today we are left with Vietnamese restaurants that are not owned and run by real Vietnamese. So we no longer have real flavors of the cuisine except for these sounds like, smell like but not taste like………What a pity! Their food is flavorful and healthy with all the fresh herbs and vegetables.

  5. Good thing I came across your post MM, wanted to try Pho at the many Vietnamese restos here in Metro Manila and your comment about their quality made me think twice.

    I recently had a craving for Pho after watching Bobby Chin’s episode in Vietnam about the dish and Food Safari’s feature.

    I’d better keep watch on this thread to see if any of the folks would recommend a good resto that serves the dish. =)

  6. Great timing MM, I made pho this weekend too, but i got smarter and decided to put the star anise, cloves, cinnamon sticks, charred onions & garlic,into a cheesecloth and tied it on the side of the pot. my stock is primarily based on ox tails which i know they dont included in the actual serving.. but i think it makes a great addition.I’ve tasted several versions in chinatown were they actually had beef tendons among the thinly sliced beef. Aside from bathcoy, i think pho is my second favorite soup, 1 notch above arroz caldo.
    Serve with lots of cilantro, thai basil, bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno,slices lime, scallions, and thinly sliced vidalia onions. Side flavorings of sirrachi hot sauce, hosin, and nuoc cham.
    I prefer to serve it piping hot by microwaving the bowl with about an inch of water and straining the noodles and other room temp. ingredients over hot running water to achieve optimal broth temperature upon serving.

  7. Was just in Hanoi the other month…Were you able to taste the Pho Bo at VietKitchen? Absolutely fantastic…and cheap to boot! =P I rather find that Pho from Hanoi tastes better (at least for me) than the ones in Saigon. I don’t know why that is. Hehehe

  8. Yes kiko we here in Oz do have some good beef pho.
    It’s a family favorite too specially in the cold Canberra weather.And it’s true,we don’t look at the restaurant but at the crowd going in.Sometimes the most unassuming looking restaurant has the more autnhentic food.

  9. I have a Vietnamese friend who said that aside from the beef tendond and beef bones,they also add chicken bones for extra flavour.

  10. MM – If you and the Mrs happen to be around the LA area, take a trip down to Westminster, Ca – home of Little Saigon. Aside from Vietnam, this is where you can find the real deal. Just ask Marvin of Burnt Lumpia! I’m sure he’s been to quite a few. Anyway, let me know if you need a guide. We live 15 minutes from Little Saigon and between me and my Vietnamese connections, we can hook you up!

  11. Hello there peanut… I think we’re quite blessed to be living in Au where we get to taste the food of other cultures in an “authentic” way…

  12. Thanks rob for the site. I found many other interesting sites there. Stumbled upon for many interesting recipes and other links.

  13. I’ve been going to Vietnam about 3 to 4 times a year over the last 15 years so I’ve tasted a lot of different types of pho. In Saigon, take a cab to Pho Hoa on Pasteur St. (address: 260C Pasteur St.), the most popular among locals and tourists.

    Order pho bo tai to get a bowl of steaming white noodles with raw beef. The idea is to let the steaming soup cook the raw beef. On the table you will find plates of blanched bean sprouts, basil leaves and many other leafy veggies, sliced chilis and lemons and a cluster of stainless steel containers of chili paste, fish sauce and soy bean paste. Add bean sprouts and the the fresh leafy veggies. Stir in a spoon or so of the orange chili paste and the dark-brown soy bean paste, according to your taste. Squeeze a lemon slice and the soybean paste mixed with the beef broth gives it a truly unique flavor. It is absolutely delicious.

  14. Jovy Meer,

    I believe the restaurant is one of the two I’ve listed:

    PHO HOA, 901 River Street, Honolulu, HI 96817 (Honolulu/Chinatown Area)Tel. (808) 528-4097


    TO CHAU 1007 River Street Honolulu, HI 96817 (Honolulu / Chinatown Area) Tel. (808) 533-4549

    One of the two has a long line in front from the time it opens until darn near closing. I’ve always had a hankering to check it out but didn’t want to wait in line. Now I must!


  15. Bawai is a homey restaurant owned by a Vietnamese lady (who is married to a Pinoy) and by far, they have one of the most memorable pho bos Ive tried here in the Phils.

    Its tucked away in Tagaytay (a big plus because of the weather!) and is open by reservations only.

  16. I lived for a year in Hanoi and when I returned to Manila, moaning about how ‘homesick’ I was for all things Vietnamese, my best friends took me to a Vietnamese restaurant at a nearby mall for some pho. Ngeh, it did not look or taste like the pho I knew! And it cost something like 160 pesos (2003 prices), when pho in Hanoi cost only 5,000 – 7,000 dong (15,400 dong = US$1 then) in many Hanoi stalls. When I wrote a Vietnamese friend about the incident, she replied that even among Vietnamese, they argue about what’s authentic pho bo, and the farther you get away from Hanoi, the more people claim the pho isn’t how it should be. :-) I wonder if there are still good Vietnamese restaurants in Palawan? There used to be a couple of good ones near the airport.

  17. MM, i think that is “Chowloong” in Puerto Princesa City,Palawan. Delicious soup served with bread…dati sa Vietville ako nakatikim nyan, but nowadays super dami na ng resto na nag seserve ng chowloong..try it MM.

  18. kennonballer, many thanks for those numbers! Yuan, I have never been to Puerto Princesa, but will try to remember chowloong… cumin, I agree the prices in Hanoi were next to nothing… you could have 2-3 bowls of soup for a meal if you could handle the volume! :)

  19. Speaking of handling the volume, how do they? I mean thin wispy Vietnamese women diving into huge basins of broth. Or the heat for that matter. They serve two green jumbo siling labuyo with the usual lime wedge and sundry aromatic herbs here. What do you do with them? Crush them?, Bite into them? Both possibilities are just too painful to contemplate and doing either will blur the source of heat you’re sweating from. And speaking of heat, there was this NY Times report that linked pho to the feu of pot au feu which in turn makes me wonder if bo is related to the bo in bostrophedon.

  20. Apicio, did you mean boustrophedon? As if I knew that was to describe an ox or cow turning in a field, before I looked it up…heeheehee. By the way, Mrs. MM confirms that pho is pronounced feu, so the NYTimes was probably spot on… as usual.

  21. hi MM, i was in HCM last month,, wanting to taste authentic pho……..sadly i didnt find one that will please my taste.true, it’s really cheap! but , not tasty as i hoped it would be. I tried the pho in westminster……Yummy! same with the Baguette sandwiches there…..i tried another noodle soup dish, very different from the pho…it has pork knucles which is very tender,beef slices, and you can put green leafy veggies and a veggie similar to puso ng saging shredded.the soup is not clear like the pho, this one is a bit orangy.. it’s yummy for 25,000 dong….i havent been to hanoi, but ,i think it’s cheaper there……i even tried the best pho in Ho chi minh.. at PHO 24….not too convincing! i even tried the pho in the Ben Than Market…abit bland for me….MM, iwas checking ur blog if u have any about vietnam that before i left…i thought you’re not into asian food….maybe, when i go back to Vientman, i will be able to find a good pho resto.. i will let u know…. fyi, i had a sticky rice with shredded chicken and sausage toppings with pickled carrots,cucumber,and a few wansoy very delicious for 10,000 dong!

  22. btw, MM, the aforementioned chowloong is spelled “chao long” in puerto princesa. there are probably more than a dozen establishments that serve that fare in the main street alone. the best one, according to the locals, is BONA’S.

    if my memory serves me right, a big bowl of chao long is P45 there and its accompaniment, a short french baguette (ban mhi?) is just P8.

    the ilocano in me loves puerto princesa!

  23. Folks, Bawai’s number is 09209722924. They’re open only on weekends and reservations are a must. Friday, dinner only; Saturday and Sunday, lunch and dinner. From Sta. Rosa, turn right going to Tagaytay proper; then, turn right to Lagusan Drive. Go all the way down – you’ll feel lost but, proceed – until you see Bawai’s sign. Don’t look for a viet-looking restaurant. It’s a biggish, residential house that you usually find in Tagaytay’s newer subdivisions.

  24. Socky, thanks for the number and clear directions! kennonballer, thanks… chao long… got it. Thanks. Rose, I had most of my pho bo in Hanoi, so I suspect it’s a specialty there… But thanks for the other tips!

  25. pixeldose, the pho`hoa branch at Main St., Pleasanton in the U.S. is a regular hang out of mine. I go there at least once a week for my pho` fix, not because it is the only one in Pleasanton, but they are pretty good as well. My favorite pho` comes with rare beef and tendons.

  26. Bong, i frequently go to Irvine and have been to the westminster area a couple of times, my problem in that 4 square block area is that, there’s just so many pho restaurants there. So, which one would you recommend? We went to a couple of places, and first look at who are eating if they are mostly vietnamese, then we go and eat there. We also went to the one at Harbor close to Disneyland.

  27. ICE (in case of emergency),I go to an Asian grocery store to buy packets of 2 minute Pho noodles (from Vietnam) and voila! it’s instant pho and I just add the usual fresh herbs,beansprout,sliced onions, and when not in a rush slices of fresh rump steak which I quickly blanch in boiling H20.It almost taste like the real mc coy!

  28. the best pho can be found in the silicon valley (san jose, ca)
    because a lot of vietnamese migrated there after the war. its best with bible tripe and lots of lime.

  29. In the Seattle area, pho restaurants are as prolific as Sbux stores – one in every block, sometimes two. Around here, pho is pronounced FUH – rhymes with DUH. Although when they first became popular, everybody was pronouncing it FOE. Today, if you say FOE, you’re given a ‘what rock did you crawl out of’ look – we’re such snobs – big sigh. According to my Vietnamese friends, none of the pho around here is worthy of even average praise let alone come close to homemade. But in the winter, it is the lunch of choice by the working masses. Pho places are totally packed and if you don’t get seated by 11:30, you’re just plain SOL and will need to take a 2 hour lunch!

    Of late, I have been more impressed with Vietnamese restaurants who do NOT have elventy million iterations of pho on their menu. I mean really, how many different types of pho could you possibly have – lol? I’ve found a couple that serve the most heavenly main entrees that may or may not be authentic but one thing for sure, they are drop dead delicious! One has 1 pho on their menu and the other does not.

  30. Dale, What toronto pho restaurant would you recommend? We have tried numerous but so far our favorite is the one along Spadina. I forgot the name but it is the one where the logo is a red cow’s head.

  31. i love vietnamese food!i’m just wondering MM why is vietnamese food more popular than filipino food when ours is as good? we have this vietnamese restaurant here in texas,very popular,the wait averages an hour,”fine dining kinda place” that caters to the “upperclass” ,how pricey? let’s just say my eyeballs almost popped out when i saw our bill the last time i was there(of course, i wasn’t the one that paid)the point is, why is it their food so popular that they can demand outrageus money for their pho? most of the time when i go to a filipino restaurant it is usually like a fast food thing, 2entrees+plus rice and soup(actually some kind of broth) and served on a styrofoam plate!i had never seen a fine dining filipino restaurant here in the states, have you?

  32. Pho soup is an excellent all time comfort food we love especially during winter time here in Toronto. My daughter and I would normally walk for 6 blocks to Dundas and Spadina where the Chinatown is located, in the middle of winterstorm just enjoy the hot, steaming and tasty broth. There are 2 Vietnamese restaurants which we think, are serving authentic pho soup in town “talagang dinadayo ng mga suking pinoy”. Double Eight(PHO 88)website: and Pho Hung – 350 Spadina Ave. 416-593-4274 that red cow’s head logo. Mind you they are open til 3am to accomodate those young clubhoppers empty stomach.

  33. If you are in Santa Clara, CA you must try:
    Pho Thanh Long Restaurant

    REALLY REALLY yummy Pho, I can eat there almost daily (if one of my siblings is willing to drive me there, LOL)

    They are not very clean but REALLY yummy pho. DO NOT drink from their glasses (YUCK) just drink your soda from the can.

    Their Chicken Pho is great too.

  34. i love the name Saigon too more than HCM. i was just there last week and nakakahiya mang aminin, hindi ako nakakain ng pho EVER. i’m going back end-oct so please do dish out your best digs for pho.

  35. I went to Hanoi to attend a university conference, and yes, the pho (served for breakfast at the hotel and on sidewalks everywhere complete with boiled previously used chopsticks — eek), was quite delicious.

    One day we found a sign that said “Pho To Coppy” and HAD to have our picture taken next to it. Priceless!

  36. Rose, the best pho in Saigon is not Pho24 nor the ones sold at food stalls inside Ben Thanh market. Pho Hoa on Pasteur St. is where most people go. There’s also a bun bo dac biet (dac biet means special) served during lunch time only at a nondescript shop somewhere near MacDinChi St., District 1. For VND30,000, you get a big bowl of steaming noodles with beef and pork. Will get the details on my next trip to Saigon before the lechon EB in Cebu.

  37. Happyman, try Golden Turtle Pho Restaurant on 125 Ossington, Toronto. According to an article (in a magazine whose title I forget, but read when i was there in December), food writers voted Golden Turtle’s as best pho. I also tried the pho in Hanoi Restaurant and Mooncakes. Both were good, but I had then just come from HCM and Hanoi. Nothing like the pho in Vietnam!

  38. i agree with Kiko,
    I love PHo, but Bun Bo Hue does it for me now, but it has to have pig blood in it, here in Massachusetts, we have a lot of good Pho places and several different versions too, the original viet is well representd, but there is the cambodian and the laotian kind as well.
    how about the banh mi, never saw that while i was in MNL,

  39. We call this Chaolong in Palawan..Years before, Palawan has become the relocation site of the vietnamese refugees..They have introduced to us their food..The vietnamese bread a.k.a “Fench bread” as for the Palawenyos and the Chaolong have become a trademark of our province…Hope that you could visit our place and try some of these…

  40. RoBStaR, thanks for mentioning Cendrillon in New York. The owner, Amy Camara-Besa has a bestselling cookbook, “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” which won the 2007 Jane Grigson Award for Distinguished Scholarship in the quality of its research and presentation by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It was an award that recognizes Philippine food as a fine and wonderful cuisine offered by hospitable and generous people.

    Amy was my classmate at UP Diliman when we were both doing a B.A. in Broadcast Communication. She later went to New York to serve as volunteer in the Filipino organization office and my mother used to see her there. Later, she did a Ph.D. at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania where she met her husband, Romy Dorotan, who is her co-author in “Memories of Philippine Kitchens.”

  41. moni,.. ok thanks.. i stayed district 1.pls give me details , bec i plan to go back to HCM again … quest for the best pho.

  42. Butsoy, If in the LA area check out “Max” (not the chicken place) in Sherman Oaks. It’s superb. Below is a quick take from LA weekly.
    Fusion chefs, even the best of them, tend to fall on one side of the spectrum or the other, either dressing up essentially Western techniques with Asian flavors and exotic ingredients or supercharging existing Asian dishes with professional French technique. Max chef Andre Guerrero, who is Filipino-American, seems to split the difference about as adroitly as anyone in town. So where his “ahi towers” are nothing like traditional sushi, for example, the perfectly engineered cylinders of fried sticky-rice cake, seaweed, pickled ginger, wasabi-flavored flying-fish roe and raw fish have all the sensations of a great, trashy tuna roll. This is a midlevel restaurant, not a temple of cuisine. But Guerrero’s formidable chicken adobo is a remarkable, remarkable dish. 13355 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 784-2915. Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. All major CC.

  43. Hi happyman! My wife and I frequent Pho 88 in Scarborough at Bamburgh Circle near Warden and Steeles. It has a very flavourful soup and their other dishes are also quite good. My co-workers tend to prefer Pho Hoa at Warden & Steeles, but I prefer 88 as the soup at Pho Hoa lacks flavour.

  44. There’s an Instant Pho (rice noodles) available here in Manila (SM & Robinson’s Supermarket)at a very affordable price and tastes very good. It is OH! RICEY Instant Pho and it comes in 2 flavors, beef & chicken. It is from Vietnam by Vina Acecook, the no. 1 brand in Vietnam and 3rd in the world when it comes to the noodles business (next to a Japanese brand and a Korean brand). But if you are looking for Pho, this is definitely it.

  45. Hi Ted. I have so many favorites but try Pho Kimmy on 14932 Bushard, Westminster, Ca near the corner of Bushard and Bolsa. Their beef is very tender! You really can’t go wrong with any of the Pho Restaurants within the 4 square blocks. As my Vietnamese nephew would say – “just follow the crowd and if you can’t understand the waitstaff, the Pho will be good”. Be adventurous!!!

  46. Good Day.,
    i’d like to prepare a pho bo Vietnamese soup but i dont know how to prepare it., if you dont mind pls cend a recipes of that menu and also the preparation., thank and more power…
    Here is my Contact details;
    Cellphone #:+639108500891
    E-mail Add.:

  47. I make the best pho in the world but not everybody is able to come to my house to try it. If you did, however, you would agree that mine is the best. I only use the best cuts of meat and other ingredients. Beef marrow, oxtails and brisket for the broth which is slow-simmered for hours. I also use the best cuts of sirloin and flank for my pho. Besides mine, other good phos can be found in California as well as in the Washington, D.C. area. When in Falls Church, Virginia (it’s in the D.C. metro area), go to the Eden Center shopping complex. It’s like being in Vietnam. There are literally dozens of pho restaurants to choose from, all of which make very good pho.

  48. Rose, I was in HCMC last week but I was tied up in the workshop that I didn’t have a chance to go back to the dac biet bun bo shop near Mac Dinh Chi St. Instead, I went to Nam Giao at 136/15 Le Thanh Ton St., which serves Hue cuisine. I had Bun Bo Hue with crab paste. So delicious, you should try it next time you’re in HCMC.

  49. MM, i’ve been looking for a really good place for pho in manila. can’t seem to find one. but after i read your blog and the comments herein, i believe i won’t be able to find a decent pho place in the city. i’ll try the bawai place sometime.

    i’ve tasted chao long in palawan and became instantly hooked. in the 14 days i stayed there, i think i ate chao long almost everyday (even after dinner; it’s delicious. who cares)… the word “chao long” even became a verb: “chao long na tayo”. it’s really cheap, simple, and amazingly good food. no pretense… the noodles can’t compare with the ones sold here in manila. i’m not a fan of noodles + soup, but i can finish a special bowl of chao long in no time. hope you guys will try some when you go there.

    here’s a link to a chao long review:

  50. Pho24 Vietnamese Pho Noodle, a popular noodle house chain in Vietnam has a branch in Manila, located at the Power Plant Mall in Rockwell Center.

    Pho noodle at Pho24 is good… I always order Pho Ga (chicken noodle). But noodles at Quan An Ngon & Pho2000 is even more delicious and authentic. You should check them out when you visit HCMC.

  51. Ive tried Oh Ricey Instant Pho, its good and it tastes even better than Pho24’s … just add some chili, thai basil, then squeeze some lime.. it’ s available at SM and Rob grocery P17 for 55g and P23 for 70g..



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