Rating: 9 / 10
Having spent months in Saigon over the course of a decade, I have eaten my fair share of mediocre bowls, ranging from trendy "nu-viet" restaurants, to the quintessential streetside plastic stool job. Of all the bowls I have eaten in varying degrees of lucidity and mental fatigue, three places stand atop broth mountain: Pho Quynh, Pho Hung and my personal fave, Pho Phu Vuong.
Sure, a naysayer could grumpily retort "Whats the big deal? It's soup, meat, noodles and some herbs" and while I agree in theory, the degree of differences are gargantuan. Personal taste aside (whether you like it sweeter, saltier, more peppery, full of herbs, clear, cloudy, splodged in hot sauce) there are still vicious variations in the quality of the products, the type of noodle they use, the chilli sauces and condiments.
What sets Phu Vuong apart from the others, is the quality and clarity of the broth. The depth of the seemingly thin soup with its peppery bite is a divine proclamation of love. The choice of noodles, perfection. The meats and herbs add a string section to an already fine tuned orchestra, but the conductor tips it all over the edge in the shape of their home-made chilli sauce. The acidic tang of that fiery elixir is a ladle of love on a bath of infinite light.
They have two locations, but my advice would be to head to the downtown one since the opening hours are more attractive to those that eat "off-peak" to avoid anxiety circumstances. I walked past once to find it too crowded, headed around the corner for a coffee and returned when things had calmed to zero. The stainless steel tables offer comforting reassurance that this is a popular place where frivolities like tableware are not prioritized.
A lot of people would raise the point that the brisket bowl at Quynh has better quality meat, Hung has more bountifull herb-platters, and I'd agree. However, when you dissect every bowl down to the sum of it's parts, Pho Phu Vuong just nudges into the lead based on how bloody spectacular that broth is. I hardly care about the meat-part of a bowl if i'm honest, the noodles and broth are my main anchors. When you also consider the price being a couple dollars for a hearty, huge bowl of liquid godliness, you can't really go wrong.
As of now, it is the best bowl of Pho I have ever eaten.
Watch Mike Chen's Pho adventures:
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored in the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"