Welcome back, rainy fall days! Perfect timing, because we’ve been looking for a better excuse than a hangover to get back into our weekly phơ habit. And what a town to do it in! Not only is there a lot of this savory Vietnamese beef noodle soup in Portland, we also have a surfeit of regional variations on the dish, ranging from a soup with escargot to one featuring pig’s feet.
With this bounty comes a lot of people swearing up, down, and all over the Internet that they know where to get the best bowl of Vietnamese soup. Bring up the subject of phơ and you might provoke heated discussions about the complexities of one broth versus the other, the advantages of red cabbage over bean sprouts, and which far-flung neighborhood has the most authentic restaurants.
It can be a confusing, contentious phơ world out there. And don’t even think about still pronouncing it to rhyme with “go.”
To provide a raft on the sea of Portland phơ options, we’ve compiled a list of places that are worthy of being your phơ destination. The best? Sure, we think so. But whether or not you put stock in that label, trust that these restaurants will go way beyond satisfying your craving. (And about that pronunciation: it sounds more like “duh.” Listen here.) Add your favorites or contest our choices below, because the more phơ the merrier—one thing we can all agree on!
Phơ An Sandy
Phơ An Sandy is like that kid in school who always got straight A’s, which, in the phơ world, translates to a solid, noodley, satisfying broth with delicately sliced beef every time you go. The staff also has a notable grasp of customer relations. Check out their website; they have done their homework and then some. They post their full menu and link to their Facebook page, both things that aren’t often seen in the phơ world. So how does this attention to detail reflect inside the restaurant itself? It’s a place where you can comfortably stray off into the rest of the non-phơ menu, which is extensive, and know that whatever you order will be accessible and well-prepared. And we can’t help but give it points for its strange, 1970s former-Dairy-Queen building. A rotunda with an orange spire for a dinner out? What a delight.
Phơ An Sandy, 6236 NE Sandy Blvd. 503.281.2990
Speaking of agreeing on things, this restaurant epitomizes what many hold to be true about phơ places: the best are neighborhood, family-run joints that focus on doing a few select dishes well. Trundle along a nondescript stretch of 82nd to get to this gem of a restaurant, and get here early. Ha VL only makes one batch of their daily soups, and it can go quickly. You’ll have two choices every day of the week. Eat them both if you can! The broths are insanely good and have a surprising, understated complexity, a perfect match for the thick, springy rice noodles that are also made fresh. Gorge on the phơ, but don’t leave out a banh mi either. Try the Vietnamese style with some spicy sauce, and you are three bucks back on one of the most delicious lunches this side of the river.
Ha VL, 2738 SE 82nd Avenue #102, 503.772.0103
at Hanoi Kitchen.
We might call this one the Cadillac of phơ restaurants, even though we think the star of Hanoi Kitchen’s extended soup list is the spicy noodle soup with escargot, a hard-to-find Vietnamese delicacy lauded for its texture. The (whole) escargot is mixed into shrimp and crab patties and served in a juicy tomato broth that packs a punch, both from spice and a fermented shrimp sauce. If that sounds like too much for you, try anything else on their menu—the family that runs the restaurant takes great pride in their dishes, as will be evidenced by your lovely server’s enthusiasm for explaining and recommending various specialties. Even the traditional herbs served with phơ have been kicked up a notch. Instead of the usual bean sprouts, Hanoi serves a purple cabbage mixture replete with a variety of Asian herbs, next to which you’ll find a giant clump of banana blossom—for the crunch, not the flavor, you’ll be told with a wink.
Hanoi Kitchen, 7925 NE Glisan Street, 503.252.1300
Bun Bo Hue Restaurant
This is the place everyone wants to find—a gritty neighborhood with a desolate, free-standing Vietnamese restaurant serving some excellent noodle soup. You know that friend who’s squeamish about things like blood sausage and requests things come out not spicy? Don’t take him here. Take your other friend who is the exact opposite. Bun bo hue is not quite phơ; it’s a tangier, funkier, more complex noodle soup from the central region of Vietnam. And at this aptly-named restaurant, they do it exceptionally well. The soup, one of about five things on the menu, is filled with wide rice noodles and flavored with bits of meat like shank, pig foot, and cubes of gelatinous pig’s blood. Did that last one freak you out? Don’t let it—it’s an excellent complement to the peppery, lemongrass flavor of the broth. And spice lovers, know that this is a place where a request for extra spicy is handled with gravity and care.
Bun Bo Hue Restaurant, 7002 SE 82nd Avenue, 503.771.1141
Toast & Phơ
Mention a good pho place on the west side of the river, and you’ll likely be pilloried for it. But everyone needs a neighborhood phơ place. The west side got lucky. Toast & Phơ is perfect for the kind of undignified phơ eating that one does alone, when your jones for immediate, spicy phơ gratification can’t wait for a phone call to potential lunch buddies. In fact, we’ve pretty much never seen tables of any number higher than one here. The phơ is a solid, unpretentious neighborhood bowl. The vermicelli noodles, the crispy bean sprouts, and the Sriracha provided are exactly what one might expect. So no surprises here, except for the pool table, where you can awkwardly shoot a game of nine after you finish your meal. And in the mornings, this phơ restaurant serves standard American breakfast fare. A little zany? Sure, but we hope this one sticks around.
Toast & Phơ, 103 NW 21st Avenue, 503.274.0888
An Xuyen Bakery
Technically, An Xuyen is not a phơ place. But we recommend you meander over to this Vietnamese bakery (and by meander, we mean drive slowly as you digest the enormous portion of soup you’ve just eaten) for post-phơ iced coffee and dessert. You’ll find some room in your stomach once you enter the tiny shop, which is fragrant with delectable baked things. The green tea sponge cake is an especially good way to go here. It’s layered with light cream and bits of red bean, so it’s neither too cloyingly sweet nor too dense. In fact, it's kind of like a bubble tea in a dessert, except better. So once you’ve gotten a few things and left, five or six pounds heavier since you started your pho-eating day (did we mention that Vietnamese iced coffee is sweetened with condensed milk?), you’ll be well-sated. And if not, An Xuyen makes a killer banh mi, too.
An Xuyen Bakery, 5345 SE Foster Road, 503.788.0866