Where to Eat Pho in Philly Right Now
Everyone has their favorite, but it's good to have options.
Philly has never been lacking in good pho, but unlike ramen, soup dumplings or fried chicken, pho has never really had a boom cycle in Philly — a time where there was none, then too much, then a solid list of excellent survivors once the pretenders vanished. I mean, it might have had that. But if it did, it was before my time. I’ve never known a moment in this city where excellent pho wasn’t available all over the place.
And this is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because abundance is good — because it’s a comfort to know that wherever we are, should that urge for fragrant, rich broth and the comfort of noodles overtake us, there’s probably a pho joint within a few minutes’ drive. It’s bad because a wealth of options breeds paralysis. We tend to pick our favorites and then stick to them with near religious ferocity.
So the purpose of this list? It’s not to introduce you to this weird new soup called pho. If you’re a serious eater in this town, you already know all about pho. You’re an expert.
No, what this is for is to let you know that there are other places out there beyond your circle of favorites. It’s to tempt you into branching out. Into trying something new. It’s to catalog the wealth available to us and help you to find a new awesome bowl should you find yourself far from home.
So let’s begin with…
1122 Washington Avenue, Bella Vista
Pho 75 is kind of Philly’s baseline pho experience — a benchmark against which all others can be judged. It’s a classic, that operates under the basic pho shop formula: excellent pho and nothing else, in a white box of a room. It’s the place that a lot of people go to most of the time. The chopsticks are plastic and the whole deal is cash-only, but that’s kind of as it should be. Pho is a simple, workingman’s food and Pho 75 is a simple, workingman’s cafe.
6842 Bustleton Avenue, Northeast Philly and 1100 Columbus Boulevard, Pennsport
Ask any 10 pho fanatics what their favorite spot is and 5 of them will probably say Pho Saigon. Granted, they’re likely split between these two locations, but the purists (a group that includes me) likely prefer the Bustleton Ave. spot for its slow-simmered beef pho, loaded down with meat, vegetables and a huge amount of noodles. If you’re after chicken pho, head for Pennsport. Pho Saigon on Bustleton has one of the rare broths that doesn’t really require any tinkering beyond a squeeze of lime. Plus, the Bustleton location has a parking lot and does take-out pho — both bonuses if you’re in a hurry.
Pho Cyclo Cafe
2124 South Broad Street, South Philly
Personally, I like a pho place with a small menu. It’s why I like Pho 75. The more focused the kitchen is on doing one thing really well, the better. Pho Cyclo, on the other hand, has a huge menu, offering pretty much anything anyone could ever want — plus pho. But this new-ish spot is also quickly developing a fan base of people who love it for exactly that reason: Because you can get great pho there, plus anything else you could possibly want.
2534 Kensington Avenue, Kensington
Sure, people know this place for its chicken pho. It’s a contender for the best, right up there alongside Thanh Thanh (see below). But look at the menu. Shrimp wonton, roast pork and duck pho for $9. That’s all I’m saying.
Pho Ha Saigon
With three locations (on Adams Avenue, at 3rd and Oregon and at Temple), Pho Ha Saigon has Philly nicely bracketed. Though not the only thing the kitchen does, beef pho is the core of the menu here — big bowls done fast and cheap and with room for endless tinkering.
Pho Xe Lua
907 Race Street, Chinatown
Pho Xe Lua (or Pho Choo Choo because of the giant neon train on the sign) is one of those places that you should just keep in your pocket until circumstances require it. It does excellent, inexpensive pho with a rich, deeply spiced broth, great Vietnamese food in general, and is an excellent place to hit after having a few drinks in Chinatown. It isn’t open super late (11pm on the weekends), but is the perfect place to go if you’re in Chinatown and overwhelmed by all the options.
1601 Washington Avenue, Graduate Hospital
It’s big, it’s loud, it’s either crowded or empty and rarely seems to be anything in between. Huong Tram is another place with a big, spiral-bound menu of Vietnamese (and Chinese) dishes, but the beef pho with flank steak and the pho bo vien (with meatballs) are worth checking out. Plus, they deliver via Caviar and seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to packing up a complicated soup for delivery.
308 East Girard Avenue, Fishtown
Chef James Shattuck (most recently at Res Ipsa) took over as chef de cuisine here over the summer and expanded the menu to include more salads and cold noodles. But the big draw at Stock remains its namesake — the long-simmered broth that serves as the base for the kitchen’s pho. Yes, the offerings here are a bit fancier than usual. Things like fried shallots and chile jam aren’t exactly traditional. But if a thoughtful, jumped-up pho (and maybe some Thai crab salad) is what you’re after, then Stock should be on your list.
Cafe Anh Hong
7036 Terminal Square, Upper Darby
Simple, fast, basic place for good pho. Though the bun bo Hue seems to be the pro’s choice here.
Cafe Pho Ga Thanh Thanh
2539 Kensington Avenue, Kensington
In a lot of other cities with a large collection of Vietnamese restaurants, chicken pho can be hard to come by. At Cafe Pho Ga Thanh Thanh (aka Cafe Thanh Thanh), it’s right in the name. The pho ga (chicken pho) is the thing to order. You get your bowl of broth, then a whole or half chicken and a bowl of dipping sauce. You dip the chicken in the sauce, throw it in the broth, and all the flavors just come together. There’s often a line to get into this place, but there’s a reason.
610 Washington Avenue, South Philly
Old school, simple and a long-time favorite for long-time pho eaters. The quality (and MSG levels) seem to vary occasionally, but when this kitchen is on, they do almost two dozen different kinds of beef pho (plus another half-dozen other kinds) that can compete with the best around. It’s cash-only, but seriously cheap. And again, it has its own parking lot which is convenient as hell.