I sometimes wonder if people who do not live or work near the Asian District are as deeply infatuated with pho as the rest of us.
Pho is chicken noodle soup. Except beef instead of chicken. And long, thin rice noodles instead of egg noodles. And thin slices of onions and lots of herbs instead of carrots or celery. And the broth is heavily spiced. And the bowls are enormous.
Upon further reflection, pho is not chicken noodle soup. (Except you can get it with chicken...you know what, nevermind.)
Pho has steadily been working its way out from the Vietnamese cuisine-dominated Asian District and into the surrounding communities.
Due to an ancient curse placed by The Blair Witch during a brief road trip down Route 66, all pho restaurants outside the Asian District had to have pun-based names. Pho Bulous. Pho’Ever. Pho’Nomenal.
Then a brave princess rescued a cowardly knight and the spell was broken. Now we get normal names. That said, not all pho is created equal. So I went searching for some great pho that wasn’t in the Asian District.
FIRST STOP: Family Pho
13325 N. MacArthur Blvd., Oklahoma City
Sun-Fri 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Ignore the name. You don’t actually have to take your family. Which is good, as neither my parents nor my children are particularly open minded when it comes to food.
I started off with fried dumplings, because everybody deserves happiness in their lives. As you’ll learn further down, my love of dumplings borders on stalkerish.
The pho was deeply spiced and had a nice beefy flavor. The noodles seemed a little slippery, which isn’t so much a complaint as something that struck me as odd while trying to Hoover them into my munch factory. Everything tasted wonderful. The fatty brisket was tender and pulled apart easily, ensuring more bites with bits of meat in. I drank deep from the giant pho bowl of life, my friends, and it was good.
SECOND STOP: Pho 3Nine
3929 N. College Ave., Bethany
Mon, Wed-Sat 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sun, Tues 10:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Just around the corner from one of my favorite places for Mexican soup (Birrieria Diaz) is one of my new favorite stops for pho. Pho 3Nine had oxtail pho, which I had never seen before, so I had to get it.
Oxtail has a ton of flavor and the slowly stewed meat is lucious and tender. I wasn’t as big a fan of the presentation, though. The oxtail was served on the bone, which I generally don’t mind, but it’s tough to strip all the meat off in the middle of a bowl of soup. Plus, the fat left on the oxtail clouded up the broth a bit. Still good, but given the chance, I would probably get what my friend Kristy Boone chose instead.
She opted for the pho tai, but with a twist. Instead of just rare steak, she paid a little more and upgraded to rare tenderloin. This silky, buttery steak shouldn’t be left too long in the soup. In fact, we just did a makeshift shabu-shabu and swished the cuts of steak in the broth for just a few seconds before eating it. Truly, heaven is a place on Earth. And it’s in Bethany of all places.
THIRD STOP: Pho 54
15001 N. May Ave., Oklahoma City
Daily 10:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Yes, this is technically Oklahoma City, even though a lot of people living thereabouts have Edmond addresses. I can honestly say this has caused me to have actual fights with actual friends. Journalists are weird, man.
Out here in Edmond-not-Edmond, I found Pho 54 in a shopping center with a Tucker’s Onion Burgers and a Jimmy Johns. That’s some tough competition come lunchtime, but this restaurant seemed to be holding its own.
I ordered the always solid pho tai gau (P8 in your menu and No. 1 in your hearts) and a plate of steamed pork dumplings.
The pho broth was clean and crisp, with a nice herbal pop. The top of this bowl was positively loaded with cilantro while the noodles at the bottom needed to be stirred up. This was just all-around good pho. Nice beef. Steaming broth. A ton of rice noodles.
When I go back, I’m getting two orders of steamed dumplings. They hit so many spots the lady at the next table asked to have “what she’s having” and then we all had a nervous laugh because she was referencing a movie scene about orgasms.
There are never enough dumplings. Never. I’ve never ended a meal and said, “I’m glad there weren’t any more dumplings” and, god willing, I never will.
FOURTH STOP: Pho Lan Asian Bistro
711 SW 19th St., Moore
Mon-Thurs 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
If you’re eating pho in Moore, Oklahoma, you are legally required to alert Michelle Bui (@themichellebui). In fact, I would like for all of you to start tweeting at her when you’re visiting Pho Lan Asian Bistro. It’s the law.
Michelle wisely pointed us to an appetizer of banh xeo, which is this crazy crispy fried curry omelet served with rice paper that you dip in hot water. It’s a whole set up. You roll the wafers of rice paper in water to soften them, cut off a piece of crepe (which is filled with pork and veggies) and then wrap the crepe and some vegetables up like a summer roll and you eat it.
Banh xeo is weird and wonderful. The only issue I had was it made me nearly too full to eat pho.
This time I got a small pho tai nam, which is soup with rare steak and flank steak. Tai (rare steak) is always one of my favorites, because I love watching the heat of the broth cook it through.
The broth has a mild sweetness that I liked, but I felt like it covered up some of the herbs in the soup. I added some Sriracha to balance it out, in case you’re not a fan of the sweet.