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Pho in Vietnam is one of the most famous dishes in the country. A classic noodle dish, pho is considered the national dish of Vietnam.
Visiting Vietnam without eating pho would make your visit incomplete. It is not only a delicious bowl of soup, but pho also provides tasty lenses into Vietnamese culture.
The story of pho is intertwined with Vietnam’s history. Pho became popular in the north as a hearty soup eaten at breakfast by rice field workers.
After Vietnam’s partition in 1954 between the North and the South, and in the aftermath of French colonization, thousands of Vietnamese migrated to the South to escape communism in the north.
That’s when the South adopted pho and made it their own. Pho in Saigon is said to be spicier and sweeter. In central Vietnam, you’ll also find regional differences in this iconic noodle soup.
While exploring the local food specialties in Vietnam, we traveled from Hanoi, to central Vietnam and finally, Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City.
Along the way, we made it a point to try the various pho Vietnam offers and understand the regional specificities.
Follow along with this guide to the best pho in Vietnam and the cultural nuances of this legendary dish.
What is Pho in Vietnam?
Phở or Pho in Vietnam is much more than just a noodle soup. It is a reflection of the heritage and way of life of the Vietnamese.
At the core, a Vietnam pho is a noodle soup. A bowl of pho consists of a soup made of a clear beef or chicken broth with flat rice noodles.
Vietnamese herbs including green onions, ginger, and coriander are included. This noodle soup is accompanied by thinly cut slices of meat, primarily beef or sometimes chicken.
Not too heavy, it is a flavorful soup that is most commonly eaten for breakfast. However, you can find pho served all day long across Vietnam.
Pho Vietnam History
Pho, pronounced fuhr, is a dish that is closely linked to the history of Vietnam. While the history of pho in Vietnam stretches back hundreds of years, there are three main events associated with it.
Pho is said to have appeared in Nam Dinh province, southeast of Hanoi region, when the French colonized the country.
Some say the name of the dish is derived from the French dish pot au feu. Where white onions and ginger are charred before making a broth.
The French are also said to have introduced beef to the pho noodle soup.
In the north, pho noodle soup gained popularity with Chinese workers from Yunnan to Hanoi.
When the French finally left in 1954, the country was divided into North and South Vietnam.
This was the second main event in the history of Pho in Vietnam. Those escaping the north brought pho with them. With access to richer soils, cooks in the south added more ingredients and spices creating a southern Vietnamese version of pho.
The third evolution of pho Vietnam was the globalization of the noodle dish. In 1975, at the end of the Vietnam war, many Vietnamese refugees fled the country in search of better lives.
They took their beloved pho to the US, Canada, Australia and France and introduced it to an international audience.
Pho has continued to spread worldwide and the ingredients are ever evolving. Most places outside of Vietnam serve the Southern style pho version.
However, you can find northern style pho at more authentic Vietnamese restaurants abroad.
Types of Pho in Vietnam
Traditional pho in Vietnam is typically served in one of two ways. There is beef pho or pho bo, which is beef noodle soup. And, there is pho ga, the chicken version.
Due to the complexity in making the broth, most authentic eateries will serve one or the other, and not both versions of pho.
The meat selection for pho bo can be quite vast. For a more traditional pho experience, nam or beef flank and tái or slices of rare beef that cook in the broth are popular.
Well-done brisket or chín and beef meatballs or bò viên are also solid options.
Adventurous eaters can go for fatty brisket or gầu, tendon or gân and tripe or sách.
Typically, Vietnam pho comes in a small size known as nho or lon for a large bowl of pho. On the menu, Dac Biet is a “Special Pho” which is large in size and includes all cuts of beef.
Xe Lua, not for the faint-hearted, is the biggest bowl and it also includes all cuts of beef.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you want to make Vietnamese pho easily at home, learn how to make it in a private online cooking class. Chef Le, from Vietnam, will teach you how to make traditional beef pho including various add-ins and variations. In this 2.5-hour online cooking class, Chef Le will teach you, step by step how to make pho as well as a traditional mango and coconut dessert for dessert. Learn how to make this popular Vietnamese street food and delight your friends and family.
Northern Vietnam Pho
Pho in the north, is known as pho bac or phở bắc. It is considered as the true pho by pho purists and those in northern Vietnam.
The focus of pho bac is on the quality of the clear and light broth. Anise and other spices provide subtle undertones of flavor.
The main ingredients are wider rice noodles and slices of rare beef or chicken. The clear broth is the star and it is typically topped with green onion.
Fish sauce, chili sauce and rice vinegar are added for additional flavoring.
As compared to pho from the south, northern style pho is more spicier.
The Best Pho in Hanoi – Northern Vietnam
On our first trip to Vietnam, we arrived in Hanoi in November. The temperatures hovered between 21°C or 68 °F during the day and would drop slightly at night warranting a sweater.
With the cooler temperatures, this was the perfect invitation to discover the best pho in the city.
Gia Truyen Vietnam Pho Restaurant in Hanoi
Our favorite northern style pho was from Gia Truyen. A traditional open-air restaurant, pho is served twice a day.
In the morning from 6:00 am until 10:00 am. And in the evening from 6:00 pm until 8:30 pm.
At Gia Truyen, pho is served with three different cuts of meat. Pho Tai which is the traditional pho bac, with slices of rare beef steak. Pho Tai Nam which is a combination of slices of rare beef steak and beef flank. And finally, Pho Chin, with slices of brisket.
The broth in our pho soups was incredibly tasty and filled with ginger, garlic and cilantro flavors. And, the meat, lean and tender.
To go along with the pho noodle soups, we had a side of bánh quẩy or fried breadsticks which are lightly fried and used to dip into the soup.
The depth of flavors in each bowl was delightful and deeply satisfying. The flavors in this northern style pho gave us an even deeper appreciation of Vietnam’s national dish.
If your travels take you to Hanoi, savor the flavors of pho Hanoi, the noodle dish that has taken the world by storm.
Address: 49 Bát Đàn, Hanoi
Hours: Open everyday from 6:00 am to 10:00 am and 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm.
Prices: 40,000 VND to 50,000 VND per person (approx. $1.75 USD to $2.20 USD)
Pho Ga or Phở Gà – Chicken Pho In Hanoi
Although pho is most widely associated with beef, we were curious and wanted to try the chicken version.
In Hanoi, we stumbled onto a street vendor that was having much success with their noodle soups.
Upon getting closer, we noticed that they were serving only pho ga or chicken pho. This was our chance to give it a try.
Pho ga has slices of chicken, bones and innards added to broth. The broth is clear and has a lighter flavor compared to beef pho.
After mixing the rice noodles, broth and herbs together, we relished the chicken pho flavors.
The soup was simple and filling although we were not huge fans of the chicken taste. While it was an experience, we decided to stick with the beef version moving forward.
Vietnam Pho Restaurant for Chicken Pho in Hanoi
In Hanoi, you’ll find many street food stalls selling the different kinds of pho in Vietnam. You will not go wrong if you pick a vendor with a crowd of locals around.
The street food vendor where we had our pho ga is located in the old quarter on Hang Dieu street.
Packed with locals, this place can be crowded at times. But you will be sure to have a tasty pho ga.
Address: 1 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
Hours: Open everyday from 6:00 am – 2:00 pm.
Price: 35,000 VND per bowl (approx. $1.55 USD)
Southern Vietnam Pho
When pho became established in Saigon, it took a turn incorporating diverse ingredients and sauces.
Phở Nam or Pho Nam as the pho of the South is referred to, took on sweeter and bolder flavors.
With the abundance of rich soils and ingredients in the South, pho was dressed up with the lavish use of herbs. Bean sprouts, basil, coriander and other herbs and vegetables are used generously.
Saigonese also added rock sugar and beef fat to the broth making it sweeter and bolder. Fish sauce and hoisin sauce are also used liberally in the south to flavor the soup.
Pho’s popularity in Vietnam took off and pho nam can be found everywhere. From street cart vendors to local eateries and restaurants, this noodle soup has flourished due to its versatility.
Even though there are regional differences, pho remains one of the most celebrated Vietnamese foods.
READ MORE: Guide To The Best Food in Saigon
The Best Pho in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City
After relishing pho many times in the north and central regions of Vietnam, we couldn’t wait to discover Saigon-style pho.
We eagerly anticipated tasting and understanding the differences between northern and southern style pho.
Vietnam Pho Restaurant For Menu Options – Pho Vu Phuong
Saigon has a plethora of local eateries serving pho. To help us decide, we asked our Airbnb host for the best pho in Saigon and they recommended Pho Vu Phuong, a local popular eatery.
What we liked about the place was the cleanliness and the bright and comfortable atmosphere.
The meat selection was impressive with scribbles on the wall mentioning “serving 100% of beef.”
Meat options include skirt steak, flank steak and brisket beef. Adventurous eaters can have tendon, tripe, or beef blood.
The pho is served in three portions, regular, large and special.
We had two large beef pho noodle soups.One with rare round steak or pho tai and the other pho ve with skirt flank beef. Both bowls were topped with a mountain of herbs and vegetables.
The meat was lean and tasty though not as tender as the pho from Hanoi. Even so, we enjoyed it very much and found it slightly more spicier than pho from the north.
One of the best parts about the experience, was the ability to choose your cut of beef. For a local experience and ability to choose your meat, this is one of the best places for pho in Saigon.
Address: 120 Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1, Ho Chi Minh
Hours: Open everyday from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm
Prices: 50,000 VND (approx. $2.16) for one regular bowl of Pho Soup
Vietnam Pho Restaurant For Local Experience – Phở Thanh Bình
Phở Thanh Binh in District 1 is another local eatery we stumbled onto. Always busy with locals, we relished in a tasty pho soup loaded with fresh herbs and vegetables.
This is another winning spot for the best pho in Saigon.
Address: 18B Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Đa Kao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Hours: Open everyday from 6:00 am to 10:00 am and 4:00 pm to 12:00 am
Price: 50,000 VND (approx. $2.16) for one regular bowl of Pho Soup
Popular Vietnam Pho Restaurant – Phở Hoa Pasteur
Pho Hoa Pasteur is one of the most popular places you’ll come across for pho in Saigon. I can be quite touristy at times with frequent bus loads of tourists.
While the pho is good, the experience is certainly well catered to the tourist. We enjoyed a generous bowl of soup preferably outside the lunch hours.
Address: 260A Pasteur, Phường 8, District 3, Hồ Chí Minh
Hours: Open everyday from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm
Prices: 75,000 VND (approx. $3.24) for one regular bowl of Pho Soup
Central Vietnam Pho
As pho traveled around the country, alterations were made by Vietnamese cooks to suit local tastes and available ingredients.
Central Vietnam, a region known for its own unique local specialties and the use of complex flavors, has many celebrated noodle dishes.
The pho in this region is sweeter than northern pho Vietnam. It is served with pickled condiments like onions and green papaya. And the rice noodles have a bit more texture than in other regions.
Beyond pho, Mi quang in Danang is the signature dish. In Hue, the former Imperial Capital, Bun Bo Hue is the celebrated fragrant beef noodle soup, which is eaten instead of pho.
Even though there are other popular noodle dishes, you can still find Vietnam pho restaurants in Hoi An and Danang.
If you are craving pho on your central Vietnam travels, check out the best places for pho in Hoi An and Danang.
The Best Pho in Hoi An
The ancient city of Hoi An is one of our favorite cities in Vietnam for food. The multi-cultural influences and unique local food culture makes it an exciting and delicious city to explore.
While exploring the local Hoi An food specialties, we took a break to try central Vietnam pho in Hoi An.
Vietnam Pho Restaurant in Hoi An
Pho Xua, a restaurant specializing in local specialties, also has one of the best pho in Hoi An.
At the restaurant, we had pho bo or beef pho which was divine. The broth was flavorful and was filled with high quality cuts of meat.
The rice noodles were perfectly cooked and a touch of the accompanying sauce enlivened the dish.
The pho noodle soup was garnished with white onions, a hint of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and fresh herbs.
This small clean and locally run restaurant is popular with locals. The restaurant has very few tables and you may find a line of people waiting.
Wait patiently and you’ll soon savor the flavors of the best pho in Hoi An.
Address: 35 Phan Chau Trinh
Hours: Open every day from 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Price: 40,000 VND per bowl (approx. $1.73)
Homemade Vietnam Pho in Hoi An
In Hoi An, we stayed with a local family at Green Coco Homestay near the Old Town. With breakfast included in the price, we took the opportunity to try homemade pho.
On our last morning, our wonderful host made a steaming bowl of the incredibly fresh pho. This was unlike any pho Vietnam we’d had before.
Fresh, tasty and made with love, it was a fantastic homemade pho. If you are looking for an experience with locals, consider booking at Green Coco.
Address: 113 Nguyễn Trường Tộ, Son Phong, Hoi An
The Best Pho in Danang
Danang, the largest city in central Vietnam, offers a wide range of authentic local food. Locals are fiercely proud of Mi Quang, the most famous dish. And, there is an abundance of seafood and much more.
Pho, nevertheless holds a special place as a much loved Vietnamese food and you’ll find several local eateries to choose from.
The following local restaurants below are two of our favorite spots. Both are open and airy and have some of the best pho in Danang.
Vietnamese Pho Restaurant Phở Bắc 63
Phở Bắc 63 is known to have one of the best noodle soups in Danang. We were introduced to this gem by our friend, Phong, who described it as the best place the locals go for pho.
Spotless clean, and with bright neon lighting, you’ll find a few noodle soups on the menu.
One of the most unusual additions you can have with your pho is an egg. This is the “Special Pho” which includes additional serving of beef and an egg.
The egg mixed in the pho makes the soup a little thicker and equally delicious. An experience not to be missed in Danang.
Address: 203 Đống Đa
Hours: Open every day from 6:00 am – 11:00 pm
Price: 40,000 VND per bowl (approx. $1.73)
Hong Pho Restaurant
Another bright and airy spot we discovered while walking around the streets of Danang was Quán Phở Hồng or Hong Pho restaurant.
Attracted by the cleanliness and well displayed menu on the wall, we decided to forgo Danang specialties and have pho Vietnam instead.
Our bowls of steaming pho were comforting and perfectly seasoned. The bean sprouts, fresh herbs and a touch of chili added texture and depth.
And, the accompanying breadsticks for dipping made it a satisfying experience.
Address: 10 Lý Tự Trọng, Thạch Thang, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng
Hours: Open everyday from 7:00 am – 9:00 pm
Price: 45,000 VND per bowl (approx. $1.95)
Pho in Vietnam is one of the most iconic and popular dishes. While in Vietnam, trying pho from its original birthplace in the north to the south, is a delicious culinary adventure.
Outside of the country’s borders pho Vietnam has a loyal following. One of the most authentic bowls of pho we enjoyed was at District One Vietnamese restaurant in Las Vegas.
For us, our favorite and best pho in Vietnam was from Hanoi. The savory broth mixed with fresh herbs, accompanied with tender slices of beef stole our hearts and warmed our bellies.
While the pho in Saigon is equally delicious, we prefer the peppery version from the north over the sweeter style in the south.
Regardless of preference, pho in Vietnam is much more than a noodle soup. As you slurp on each spoonful of pho, you are taking in the country’s rich history and culture.
If you are curious and want to make pho at home, see the simple recipes in The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles.
Have you had pho before? What kind did you eat and where did you have it? Please let us know in the comments below.
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Claire is a culinary explorer who travels the world in search of the best local foods. She is always looking for her next culinary adventure to bring you the best bites while exploring new places.