If you read my bio, it says: I believe that the answers to life’s most difficult questions lie at the bottom of a bowl of pho. And if there are any answers lying at the dregs of Saigon Pho’s soup, it would probably come to me even before I get to finish eating it. The soup is that clear and pure–like a consommé, but much more magical.
You might be familiar with the more robust and flavorful versions of pho from Ba Noi’s and Annam Noodle Bar, but Saigon Pho’s version is an entirely different game altogether. When the pho arrived at my table, my dining companion and I immediately noticed the light, clear, and subtle appearance of the soup. I could swear I was almost shaking before taking my first slurp, hoping that it wouldn’t be bland.
And it wasn’t. The soup doesn’t arrest your palate the way, say, a tonkotsu broth would, but you’d never think that it needs more time to simmer in the pot.
On my first visit, I stuck with the classic Pho Bo (P189). The savory beef flavor was present but not commanding; it still allowed some of the other ingredients, such as chives and onions, to shine. I would’ve wanted the beef slices to be cooked a little less, however, since what I got was a bit chewy and not entirely enjoyable.
During my second visit, I began to trust Saigon Pho a bit more and ordered the Pho Ga (P179). It’s easy to believe that a bowl of pho entirely based on chicken stock would be bland and boring, but again Saigon Pho proved me wrong. The bowl was well-balanced, soothing, delicate, and entirely faultless.
For both types of pho, you can squirt on some Vietnamese chili and hoisin sauce to build up the flavor. As a personal preference, I’d rather just top the soup with chili, cilantro, and basil to give it a stronger character, plus crunchy bean sprouts for some texture.
You might also notice that the noodles used in both soups are softer than the noodles you might be used to, but I don’t find that a problem. My real gripe is that each bowl of soup is not entirely filling. I wish there were more noodles in each one. For the price, though, I shouldn’t be complaining.
Saigon Pho’s menu is focused and sparse. Aside from the two traditional types of pho, the restaurant also offers Hu Tieu (P210), a pork and seafood noodle dish as well as Bun Bo (P189). If you are new to Vietnamese noodles, I suggest you start with the Bun Bo, because it’s richer, spicier, and far more flavorful than pho. It can serve as a great introduction to Vietnamese cuisine, especially if you’re just getting used to the subtle flavors. Note that Saigon Pho uses the correct type of noodle for Bun Bo, the round rice noodle (not the flat ones used in pho).
The other things on Saigon Pho’s menu are a bit forgettable and can be skipped, like the Banh Mi or the Goi Cuon (P129), which only had a sad looking piece of shrimp in each roll. There’s also Com Tam on the menu, which I haven’t tried, but appears interesting enough to check out when I’m finally tired of eating noodles. I’ve heard it comes with unlimited rice.
If you plan on staying a bit longer to chat, I suggest you also get yourself a glass of Saigon Pho’s Vietnamese Coffee (P95), which comes in a filter set. You’ll have to wait for the coffee to drip on thick, rich milk until it’s ready to be transferred to an empty glass. It’s a bit sweeter than what I’d prefer, but the flavor of the dark roast still shines through. Perfect pick-me-up for a lazy afternoon.
There are still a few details that I’d like Saigon Pho to improve, such as the fact that they serve their soup with only a metal spoon, not a ceramic soup spoon (yes, it’s a big deal!). Or the fact that service starts quite late–12pm–when pho is traditionally eaten for breakfast (while I don’t think Filipinos would take to eating pho in the morning, perhaps opening an hour or two earlier would be great). The scrawls on the interior wall of the restaurant also strike me as a bit creepy, mostly because they’re set against a black background.
Despite these early kinks, I want Saigon Pho to succeed, if only because of the meditative quality of the noodle dishes. If I wanted to clear my mind after a long day at work, I would head straight here. Some people do yoga, I do pho. And whenever I go to Saigon Pho, I come out of the restaurant feeling a bit wiser and more worldly. I may not know much, but I’m sure that’s the type of feeling all Vietnamese pho joints should aspire to give its diners.
Saigon Pho is located at 108 Maginhawa Street, Teacher’s Village, Quezon City, Philippines