There are many names for fall — Autumn, Harvest, Samhain, decorative gourd season — but none of these monikers quite capture the rapture of what is rightly called Pho Season. And while there's no logical reason to celebrate the mercury plunging to 40, fall is not without its advantages.
Pho — or bánh ph?, if you feel like being a jackass with your keyboard — is the flagship of Vietnamese cuisine, and though most areas of Southeast Asia don't get chiller than a crisp breeze, in the Midwestern climate, pho is a bubbling, restorative elixir. And denizens of the Eat Street area of Whittier are up to their gables in options for where to score the chill-neutralizing meat soup.
Some have complained that the overtly Vietnamese quarter-mile stretch of Nicollet between 25th and 28th is oversaturated with pho, but since when is there anything wrong with being oversaturated with pho? It makes you impervious to fall air, to the point where you pass through the bomber-jacketed masses, swatting away their pumpkin-spiced chais and pitying their inability to adapt. It's October, and I have beef and oxtail broth working through my capillaries, and it's all thanks to these four Eat Street noodle shops.
Pho Hoa Noodle Soup
Pho Hoa is never not busy, which is strange considering the shop itself looks like a laundromat that was remodeled by a landscape architect, but true to its name (which, according to Google, translates to "pho flower"), the California-based chain serves a sinfully delicious array of pho. Pho Hoa claims to host the best Vietnamese soup in the Twin Cities, and though this paper has never confirmed it and they didn't even make Thrillist's hasty estimation, Pho Hoa's ballsiness is backed up by its stupidly diverse stock.
25 varieties of pho span the Minneapolis chapter's menu, with traditional options like tendon and brisket being offset by shrimp and mock duck varieties. A steak and brisket order (one of their most popular) comes with a generous bouquet of Thai basil and jalapenos that add a chapped-lip-stinging spice to their very neutral broth. The noodles are supple and cooked to near translucence, with the fat of the brisket melting off into filmy little bubbles that beg to be prodded with a chopstick. The steak is sliced thin, which is the dish's only real downside, since it feels like the meat may have fallen out of a Holiday roast beef hoagie, but it thankfully doesn't taste like it looks.
At $7.65 ($5.75 for a kids serving), Pho Hoa doles out their signature bowls at a price much lower than anywhere else on Eat Street, and with such a variety, you could eat there every day this fall and never have the same thing twice.
The second the radiator kicks on, I flee to Pho 79. Like a silverfish sprinting for the sticky warmth of your shower drain, I am out the door and breathing in clouds of beefy pho steam at the tandem Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant as soon as wool enters my wardrobe. The place is so good it's a goddamn sanctuary, and pho is (of course) their marquee menu item.
With 20 types of pho on tap, Pho 79 is the second most bountiful pho stop on this list. Though most types are just slight variations on the traditional meats, the customizability has always been one of the most endearing facets of the dank pho lair's appeal. From the dining room, you can watch as cooks plop handfuls of noodles into bowls and stack them for the waiting diners. When served, the dense snake ball of thin noodles is tough to break up, especially given the sheer mass, but the melange of broth and cooked steak, flank, and tripe together compensate for the fact that there's a skinned softball sinking in the middle of your bowl.
Jasmine 26 isn't exactly the type of down-and-dirty grub stop you'd expect to score authentic pho. No, their lunch-counter-style sister shop Jasmine Deli on Nicollet has more of the trappings of your subway Vietnamese stop, but they don't serve pho, so you'll need to head to the self-styled "fine Asian cuisine" restaurant on the corner to keep it in the Jasmine family. Jasmine 26 has a distinct new-age feel that rests somewhere between massage parlor and night club. They're the only restaurant on this list that boasts sweet potato noodles and bubble tea cocktails on the menu and serves their hoisin and sambal in a nickel spice caddy, so the experience is definitely upscale, but once the bubbling bowl of pho hits the table, one waft is enough to make you feel like you're in Hanoi.
Jasmine 26's menu only hosts two varieties of pho — beef and vegetarian. Though slightly less traditional than other dingy joints (Jasmine 26's broth is billed as "herbal" and is distinctly less beefy than others), the refined take on pho is still delicious. The dish comes chock full of cilantro and scallions, re-enforcing the herbaceous broth, and delicately sliced onions seemingly melt into the fog-your-glasses hot stew. Where Jasmine 26's pho falls short is the meat. Though the raw and well-done beef are both tantalizing and the sliced meatballs are decidedly less gummy than other street-style restaurants, there simply isn't enough beef to justify the $10 price tag. It's certainly worth a try if you're pairing your meal with the bar's late-night happy hour (9 p.m. to close) or if you're trying to experiment with your pho palate, but if you're looking to get sickly full on noodles and marrow-y meat water, this isn't the joint.
A lot of folks on Yelp! laud Quang for it's authenticity, and walking into the converted function hall, it feels like you're about to be seated at a reception for a Vietnamese wedding. The place is lively, and every section of the pews that line its walls are filled with people yukking, drinking Lucky Buddha, and picking at their pho bowls with chopsticks. There are five kinds of pho to choose from, all traditional offerings, and most topped with superlative beef.
With rare pink bits peeking up out of the broth and spongy meatballs bobbing between red onion spears, Quang has mastered the carnal component of pho. It'd be nice if the broth were as robust as the offerings at other stops on Nicollet. That's nothing that can't be fixed with a soaking jalapeno and a squirt of hoisin, but it's a disappointing given the familial environs. If you're on the other side of 27th, it's most definitely your best bet.
Appendix: Best pho-related puns to use while eating at any of these restaurants
- Pho-ma - The drowsy, paralyzing fullness that follows a meal of pho.
- PhoMO - The jealous feeling the uninvited get when they find out you're eating pho without them.
- Pho-tential - The possibility that a restaurant does or doesn't serve pho.
- E-pho-ticon - A textual representation of your contented expression after you've consumed a nice, beefy pho.
- Pho-gettable - One of the greatest let-downs of all time — a mediocre bowl of Vietnamese soup.
- Pho real - What some jackass at an adjacent table said while I was eating at Pho 79.