One of the most famous dishes of Vietnam is Pho, a noodle soup, popular with locals, especially at breakfast.
Going to Vietnam without eating Pho would make your visit incomplete. Indeed, it is not only a delicious bowl of soup, but pho also provides an interesting lens into the Vietnamese culture.
Originally from northern Vietnam, the story of pho is intertwined with Vietnam’s history. Pho became popular in the north as a hearty soup eaten at breakfast by the rice field workers.
After Vietnam’s partition in 1954 between the North and the South, and in the aftermath of the 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. The Pho from Saigon is said to be spicier and sweeter. You can read more about the Vietnamese regional differences in our previous article about the food in Vietnam.
On our quest for authentic food in Vietnam, we traveled from Hanoi to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Along the way, we made a point to try pho in Vietnam and understand the regional specificities.
Join along for a road trip for the best local pho in Vietnam. Read on!
Table of contents
What is Vietnamese Pho?
Before we jump on the road, it is essential to understand what makes up pho.
A bowl of pho is basically a soup made of a clear beef or chicken based broth with flat rice noodles, herbs including green onions, ginger, and coriander, and 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. Nonetheless, you will find pho served all day in Vietnam.
Our Best Pho in Vietnam – Hanoi
We arrived in Hanoi at the beginning of the winter, which really means in the dry and cool season. The temperature stayed around 21C or 70F and would drop slightly at night warranting a sweater on some days. This was the perfect invitation to discover the best pho in the city!
Our favorite pho was from Gia Truyen. This open-air restaurant serves pho, traditionally in the morning starting at 6:00 am and then again later for dinner until 8:30 pm.
Being late eaters, we made sure not to miss our opportunity to taste the pho from Gia Truyen. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were surprised to see so many people queuing outside waiting to get served the precious bowl of noodle soup.
Tables were sprawled out inside and outside the restaurant. As soon as anyone left their spot, someone would pounce on their seat immediately.
When you get to the cashier, you place and pay for your order and then take a seat and wait. Don’t mind the hunks of meat hanging on the counter. Instead, focus on all the fresh ingredients that are going into your bowl of deliciousness.
Even after watching our bowls of soup being prepared, we never got to know exactly why these large meat pieces were hanging there.
The pho is served with three different cut of meat you could choose from. Pho Tai which is the traditional basic pho, 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 which has slices of brisket.
We tried the Pho Tai and Pho Tai Nam. The magic of pho lies in the broth and this one did not disappoint. The pho in both versions was very flavorful and filled with ginger, garlic and cilantro flavors. The meat was lean, incredibly tender and very tasty. Such a delightful and filling meal!
We also tried the side of trung ga, which is banh mi style bread that is lightly fried and used to dip into the soup. An interesting add-on, though not necessary to fully appreciate the pho itself.
Pho Ga or Chicken Pho In Hanoi
Although Pho is best with beef, we wanted to try the chicken version. Without having done much research about where to have it in Hanoi, we stumbled onto a stall in a side street that seemed to have much success with their noodle soup.
Upon getting closer we noticed that they were serving chicken pho. This was our chance to give it a try.
The soup was simple and filling although we were not big fans of the chicken taste. While it was a pleasant experience, we decided to stick with the beef soup moving forward.
Address: Northeast Corner of Cua Dong and Phung Hung St, Hanoi.
Hours: Lunch hours 11:00 am to 2:00 pm.
Price: About 35,000 VND per person, approximately $1.55 USD.
Best Pho in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon
After tasting pho a few of times in Hanoi and Hoi An (central region), we went in search of the best pho in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and to understand the differences between Northern and Southern Pho.
There are no shortages of places for pho in Saigon. To help us decide, we asked our host at the Airbnb where we were staying, for their favorite places for pho.
At first glance, we were very impressed with the cleanliness of the place and the nice and comfortable atmosphere. Local office workers were finishing up their meals as we sat down at a nearby table.
On the wall of the restaurant were huge boards showing the different cuts of meat. Equally noticeable throughout the restaurant were mentions of “serving 100% of beef” on the menu, napkins, and posters on the wall.
As we looked over the menu, there was a surprisingly large selection of pho. It is made with different cuts of beef including skirt steak, flank steak, brisket, and for more adventurous eaters, you have cuts like tendon, tripe, and beef blood.
The pho is served in three portions, regular, large and special.
We decided to go for the large portion of the Pho Tai which is served with rare round steak and the Pho Ve served with skirt flank beef. The pho broth was served with a lot of greens and with a nice onion flavor.
The meat was lean and tasty though not as tender as the pho from Hanoi. We certainly 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. This is definitely a great place to try beef pho with your preferred cut.
Address: 120 Nguyễn Thái Bình, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City.
Hours: Everyday from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm
Prices: About 50,000 VND to 50,000 VND per person, approximately $1.75 USD to $2.20 USD
Pho is the most iconic Vietnamese dish. You can find it easily outside of Vietnam. District One restaurant in Las Vegas, USA serves the most authentic pho we’ve had outside of Vietnam.
While visiting Vietnam, trying pho from it’s original birthplace in the north, all the way to the south of Vietnam, is a culinary adventure that is not to be missed.
For us, the 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.
For recipes about the pho in Vietnam, Andrea Nguyen, new cookbook, The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles is a great place to start.
And what you, have you had Pho before? What is your favorite Pho and where did you have it?
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Claire is a culinary explorer, digital nomad and engineer brain behind Authentic Food Quest. Together with her partner, Rosemary, they created Authentic Food Quest to help people find the best local food on their travels. For over 5 years they have eaten their way through South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America while sharing the best local food experiences on their website. Authentic Food Quest has been featured on top publications such as Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Honest Cooking. Claire and Rosemary are also authors of Authentic Food Quest Argentina and Authentic Food Quest Peru, available on Amazon.