Pho Cyclo Café – Seattle

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In contrast to New Saigon, ‘Pho Cyclo’, was very much a Pho destination. Hip, western style, large open space with plenty of kids and a mixed and diverse crowd, ambiance is best described as “courtyard within a café, inside a building on a gentrifying strip” (quite the mouthful).

The menu is based around Pho, but also contains some other rice and noodle dishes. Pho is amusingly categorised between ‘Pho Novice’ and ‘Pho Master’ and the range is significant including vegetarian options. Pho master covers more traditional but less western ingredients e.g. tripe, tendons, fatty flank, while novice is variations of the more ‘comfortable cuts’, brisket, thinly sliced chicken, sausage etc.

On the side was the typical range of sauces; Chilli, Soy, Hoisin and Sambal along with a strange spicy fish sauce which was sweet and red and had plenty of lemongrass in it.

I consider myself a Pho master, but opted for the beef pho with sliced beef and fatty brisket a classic that lends itself to ‘global comparisons’.

The sides where really fresh basil and bean sprouts along with massive Jalapenos, and they were delivered with my Pepsi in a glass along with tea in a metal pot.

The bowl was massive and the meat was plentiful, with spring onion on the topic, rice noodles were thin and almost square. If there is one thing about American restaurants they are generous when it comes to providing quantity, I was please to see this was not at the expense of quality.

The broth was rich and strong in flavour and colour, it’s rare to encounter a such great stock that it doesn’t actually require any additional condiments and sauces to enhance the flavours.

This didn’t unfortunately extend to the vegetarian option, which was fairly weak in flavour but did include mushrooms, oyster mushroom stems, carrot, broccoli and tofu.

Overall an excellent Pho experience, if I was a local I’d be back for sure.

Stock: 5 – Rich stock and no sauces required
Inside: 5 – Generous quantities of meat and decent cut
On the side: 4 – Everything was fresh
Extras: 4 – great space, but poor vegetarian option, good tea
Score: 18/20
Pho Cyclo Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

New Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant 2 – Seattle

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On a recent trip to the USA, we were keen to check out the local phở scene and see what America had to offer, that responsibility fell on the not so little West coast city of Seattle in the state of Washington.

We were really excited to understand both the differences and similarities of USA phở, there are a lot of commonalities that make phở, phở…but it’s the little local differences that make it interesting.

New Saigon was tucked away down a set of stairs in bustling ‘downtown’ (aka ‘the city’), the dining space was large and fairly ambient occupied by a ton of Seakhawks fans (NFL) as it was game day with Kenny G playing softly in the background.

The menu had a lot of traditional Vietnamese dishes on offer including ample vegetarian options. The list of phở was fairly standard, however the meat was cooked to taste e.g. rare, medium and well done which was a bit interesting.

I opted for the old favourite of beef brisket and my partner tried the vegetarian, service was fairly unmemorable but efficient and the food came quickly.

When it comes to side sauces there is not alot of difference from Australia: Chilli sauce, Soy and fish sauce are available, but Hoisin isn’t on offer.

The sides were fresh and plentiful; Basil and sprouts with lime, it also came with jalapeño peppers, which was a bit of fun, but were extremely weak (pre-cut too early).

So how was the phở?

A little boring really, the stock was light in colour and flavour, and there may have had some chicken in it. The flavour was weak and didn’t feel like it had been cooked the fairly common 12hours plus.

The meat was plentiful and appropriately cooked, rice noodles were small and thin and a bit mushy. Overall the dish was bland and boring, sauces and condiments were mandatory to give it some excitement.

By contrast the vegetarian phở was pretty interesting, containing: Tofu, Carrots , Bok Choy, Mushrooms, Broccoli and sliced onion. It succeeded where many (dare I say most) vegetarian phở fail, it had flavour, it didn’t really require condiments.

Overall disappointing, but try the vegetarian.

1. Stock: 2 – Weak and flavourless, condiments required
2. Inside: 4 – meet cooked to order, and comes in amble quantities
3. On the side: 3 – Everything was fresh, Jalapeno’s were fun but weak
4. Extras: 3 – Some ambiance, plenty of vegetarian options, tea was ok
Score: 12/20

New Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant II Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Phở Victoria – North Melbourne

A quality phở oasis

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Phở Victoria has established a unique proximity, located half-way between Footscray and Victoria St Richmond (two of the Vietnamese food havens of Melbourne) in what can otherwise be described as a ‘phở wasteland’.

Attracting a mix of locals, Queen Vic market visitors (100 metres away) and Prudence visitors (a popular bar two doors away) ensures this place is rarely quiet. A complete lack of competition with other Vietnamese restaurants can sometimes lead to reduced quality, but this is not the case for Phở Victoria.

The menu is extensive, with all the usual Vietnamese dishes, however looking around (especially during the day) the crowd is well and truly here for the phở . The offering is variations of beef, but it also says vegetarian stock is available which I’ll be sure to check-out in the future.

Range of sides was standard: chilli oil, chilli sauce, hoisin and soy. Fresh chilli is available on request and is clearly freshly cut (very important).

Ordering the standard brisket and beef balls it arrived promptly with finely chopped spring and purple onions on top.

Great stock, slightly heavier in flavour and very cloudy it didn’t really need much in the way of sauces to enhance it which is testament to the quality, beef slices were of medium thickness, still thin enough to cook properly through In the hot broth and contained some fat.

Noodles were a bit soft, I suspect they might have been added when then the stock was very hot, the upside is the beef balls were properly cooked through and fairly tender (for a processed, out of the packed beef ball).

The produce on the side was pretty fresh, sprouts were good, basil wasn’t bad and there was a surprising inclusion of a slice of orange instead of lemon, which was extremely unusual…but is not actually a bad thing.

Overall Pho Victoria is a surprise hit, standing well on it’s own despite the total lack of competition.

  1. Stock: 4 – complex and strong, no condiments required.
  2. Inside: 3 – meat was fine onion on top keeps it interesting.
  3. On the side: 4 – Everything was fresh, chilli on demand keeps it fresh.
  4. Extras: 4 – Good service, tea is ok, some ambiance and worth a revisit.

Score: 15/20

Pho Victoria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mackayla Kafe – Now Closed

Stay for the Bánh mì, not for the Phở 

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Mackayla Kafe is a recent addition to Errol Street in North Melbourne, a Vietnamese café that does coffee replacing a long standing organic café.

The menu is a bit of mish-mash between Vietnamese (Bánh mì, phở, skewers, rice paper rolls and BBQ pork with vermicelli) and ‘western breakfasts’ (bacon and eggs etc.) combined with a decent understanding of how to make coffee.

But for me the big draw card was a place that sold phở located near Errol St (the options are surprisingly limited in North Melbourne).

The pho offering was simple; chicken or beef in one size, priced at $10 a bowl.

The beef that I ordered took a while to make as they clearly were not producing it in large volumes like in the typical phở places we review.

The bowl arrived and was of a smaller, medium size, spring onion and coriander were finely chopped on top with the stock warm but not hot.  The beef was more a chunk of meat partly cook and partly raw, not thinly sliced so much as a ‘mass’ of meat, there was no fat, but identifying its original and quality was difficult.

Because the stock wasn’t super-hot, the raw beef didn’t fully cook through or fall apart when it was being eaten which made a bit of a messy unsatisfying experience.

The condiments were limited to chilli sauce and hoisin and it came with bean sprouts and fresh chilli, it was all very fresh looking but it would have been nice to have basil or mint on the side as per usual.

The stock was mild in flavour and cloudy, it lacked complexity and was a bit bland, it was clearly not a 12 hour stock like most of the other places and seemed to be missing some of the key ingredients that give Pho stock a richer more exciting flavour.

So would I go back? For the coffee and the Banh-mi maybe…but not for the phở it should be well and truly be left to the professionals.

1. Stock: 1 – Bland and missing some key flavours
2. Inside: 3 – The meat was very disappointing but the onion and coriander on top was a nice touch
3. On the side: 2 – Bean shoots and chilli were fresh but lack of basil or mint was a bit disappointing
4. Extras: 3 – The service was good and I liked the coffee but this is not a place to return for phở

Score: 9/20

Address: 8 Errol Street, North Melbourne

 

Thanh Nga Nine – Richmond

A Victoria Street mainstay, but a phở miss



Thanh Nga Nine is a popular much-loved establishment on Victoria Street in Richmond, consistently filled with families and couples for a meal out.

Family-owned and run, the venue is brightly lit and colourful with lots of statues of Buddha, pictures of food and a well-stocked bar. The eponymous Thanh Nga, is usually overlooking the kitchen, whilst her son runs a tight ship on the dining floor. He is super friendly, knows the menu inside out when it comes to the ingredients in each dish and is always accommodating – a winner with vegetarians, vegans and food intolerants.

I’ve been a long-term fan of Thanh Nga Nine and with 280 odd items on the menu, including some unique dishes like mini Vietnamese pancakes and mung bean pie not available at many of the other places, I consider it an excellent place to invite the fussier eater or people not accustomed to Victoria Street. But the relevant question for us: is it a place to eat phở?

Well, it’s a not a phở joint – the interior is too nice to be strictly phở! – but the range of soups is extensive, including lots of seafood soups from different parts of Vietnam

I opted with the rare beef phở, as readers will know it’s a personal favourite and the best indicator of quality, since you can see the cut of meat.

Firstly the cuts of meat were a little unimpressive, rather than chunks of thinly sliced raw beef that cook in the hot broth, the meat was thin slithers that were completely cooked by the time they arrived, and the quantity was a little ungenerous.

On top of the soup there were generous quantities of thinly sliced red onion, chopped coriander and fried shallots, the addition of the coriander was a good solid addition that I’d like to see more often.

The broth was light and transparent with a very mild flavour, beyond the beef and a bit of coriander there was no key flavours, spices or herbs that really stood out, it wasn’t wrong it was just a bit boring.

Sides included fresh bean sprouts and basil, with a miserable looking cut up chilli, however there were lots of interesting side condiments with several variations of chilli sauces to mix it up.

So how Thanh Nga Nine stack up on phở? Not very well, but it’s also not the reason to visit. We recommend leaving the phở to the professionals but it’s definitely worth a visit for a more diverse Vietnamese meal.

1. Stock: 2 – Bland with no distinguishing features.
2. Inside: 3 – The meat was disappointing but the onion and coriander on top was a nice touch.
3. On the side: 3 – Everything was fresh, chilli was a little miserable looking.
4. Extras: 3 – Good service, decent ambiance and you will be back time and time again but not for the phở.

Score: 11/20

Thanh Nga Nine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Co Do – Richmond

One of the finest Victoria Street has to offer

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Co Do has remained the one Vietnamese restaurant I’ve always been happy to cross town for, I’m not exactly sure why as it doesn’t do anything different, it just does everything really well. Also the sheer volume of unrelated friends and acquaintances that frequent Co Do is so disproportionately high that you know you are onto something special.This is a good place for a casual meal with friends for lunch and dinner but don’t expect too much ambiance as this place can get busy (and noisy) and is often packed with families.

The service here is significantly friendlier than pretty much any other Vietnamese restaurant on Victoria St or Footscray, the owner has the staff well trained and food ordering is prompt, friendly and efficient.

Co Do offers a full and diverse menu, pages and pages of all the Vietnamese classics, including all the usual soups and a few unique additions such as Hue style and several pork based stocks which are a break from the norms. The soups come in the usual 3 sizes Small $8, Medium $9 and Large $10.

I break tradition here and go the phở ga which is the chicken soup, not because the beef isn’t excellent (it is), I just think they do the chicken so incredibly well. The chicken fillet is completely bone free and is cooked to perfection; thickly sliced the quantity is suitably generous.

The chicken stock is very transparent and quite sweet, probably due to the vegetables its been cooked with, the flavour is quite unique and doesn’t taste like European chicken soup which adds to its charm.

The garnish on top of the soup is a combination of finely sliced red onion, spring onion and dried shallots which adds a little bit of crunch to the overall soup texture.

The sides are all fresh: bean sprouts, basil and wedges of lemon, with finely sliced chilli already on the table in a container (which I’m usually not in favour of as it reduces the hotness throughout the day).
The range of sauces is comprehensive including chilli sauce and oil, hoisin, soy and fish sauce, you won’t be disappointed.

A visit to Co Do won’t deliver you anything unique, but it will offer one of the most solid examples of Vietnamese food in Melbourne.

1. Stock: 4 – Sweet and transparent.
2. Inside: 5 – Perfect cut and quantity of chicken, the garnish adds a little something.
3. On the side: 3 – Everything was fresh, but pre-cut chilli was a big no-no.
4. Extras: 4 – Good service and amazing tea, but light on ambiance due to it being popular, I know I’ll be back.

Score: 16/20

Address :196 Victoria St
Richmond, VIC 3121

Co Do Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Phở Chu The – Footscray

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A consistent contributor to Hopkins Street

I must have walked past Phở  Chu The a thousand times and never thought to walk in. It’s another rather non-descript phở  joint on Hopkins Street in Footscray sandwiched between other non-descript phở joints located across from the Footscray markets and a short stroll to the train station. This is one that’s yet to be colonised by the phở tourists (in Footscray anyway), and I was glad to tick it off the list even if it’s not a complete winner for beef phở.

The owner started Phở Chu The almost 30 years ago, so it’s certainly got tons of cred and even more heritage which has enabled it to expand into several locations throughout Melbourne.The décor has all the markings of a Footscray Vietnamese restaurant: fish tank, waving lucky cats, ugly tiles and lots of mirrors coupled with expected rushed service.

The menu is comfortably limited as one would expect with a specialist phở  restaurant. Leave the vegos at home since you can choose from chicken or beef with a selection of extras (brisket, tripe, ox tail, beef balls, and a raft of other chicken parts), all available in 3 sizes (small $9, medium $10 and large $11).

I ordered the medium rare beef phở , a personal favorite, and a good benchmark to measure the quality of meat and clarity of the stock. The soup is served with finely sliced rings of fresh Spanish onion, spring onion and coriander on top – the Spanish onion is a favourite simple touch to mix up a classic.

The beef is cut thicker than usual, which poses a bit of a problem as the meat doesn’t cook through while sitting in the hot soup, so it’s quite raw. The first time I experienced this I put it down to a lack of patience on my part, but the second time I realised it was actually that the slices were too thick. While a rare beef phở eater is used to a bit of pink in the meat, this was a step up from ‘mooing’ and even with time it didn’t cook through properly.

The stock on the other hand is excellent, with bonus points for being consistently good each time. It was slightly cloudy and had medium levels of salt and a sort of extra meaty flavor, possibly explained by something else added to the pot.

They had all the usual suspects on the side: hoisin, chilli sauce and oil. In the fresh department, they serve bean shoots, basil, lemon and extra rings of finely sliced Spanish onion, which is a bonus. The freshly cut chilli was in a container as opposed to the side of a plate, which I’m not in favour of as it kills the hotness.

Pho Chu The has the heritage and the backing of the locals but I’m not sure it really stacks up compared to some of the other places. If you are looking for something new try it out, but don’t expect anything particular different.

  1. Stock: 4 – Really great flavour, but might be a bit strong for some people.
  2. Inside: 2 – Nice cuts of meat, but too thick to cook properly gets scored down.
  3. On the side: 3 – Everything was fresh, but pre-cut chilli was a big no-no.
  4.  Extras: 3 – Chopped onion, skinny noodles and decent tea, light on ambiance and I don’t think I’ll be back.

Score: 12/20

92 Hopkins Street, Footscray

03 9687 8265

http://phochuthe.com/

Pho Chu The on Urbanspoon

Phở Ta – Footscray

Pho Ta

I got the heads up about Phở Ta from Consider the Sauce and I was super keen to check it out. Located not on the usual strip, but on Nicholson Street below the mall. There are no other Vietnamese restaurants in the immediate vicinity. This is for people in the know willing the venture out of the way. And the road less trodden is worth a visit.

Phở Ta is a pure soup house – read forgot getting anything vegetarian here. There is traditional phở, drinks (soft drinks, 3 coloured drinks and bean and soy varieties) and that was the entire menu, the venue is small and well lit, but extremely light on ambiance (if you’ll pardon the pun) perhaps that is because it is utilitarian. There are no faux plants, landscape paintings of Vietnam or waving cats, less than 10 tables….it’s pretty small.

I’ve been there twice and each time it’s been pretty much dead, but that is ok because it guarantees a quiet meal away from noisy families and you won’t be waiting for a table.

Three sizes are available Small = $7.50, Medium $8.50 and large 9.50, with multiple variations of Beef with all the usual versions (brisket, beef balls, tendon, tripe).

I had the rare beef and brisket which is always a good indicator of quality of the cuts of meat because you can really see what you’re eating.

The beef was thinly sliced as it needs to be for a rare beef Pho to enable it to cook in front of you in the hot broth.

I really liked the addition of very finely chopped onion, coriander, basil and spring onion on top of the soup, it mixes up the well-worn classic a bit and gets bonus points for being a little different

I’ve actually visited here twice and found the stock to be quite different on both occasions, the first being transparent and light on the salt with a weaker flavor and the second packing a bit more of a punch.

The sides were all of the usual: chilli oil, Hoisin sauce, and the bean sprouts, lime and chilli was nice and fresh. The noodles were a fraction thinner than usual which doesn’t really change the eating experience that much.

If you’re looking to step away from the ever popular Hopkins st, than make sure you check it out.

Stock: 3 – I liked the transparency, but a little light on flavour, big difference in flavour the two times.

Inside: 4 – Thinly cut meat with no fat

On the side: 4 – chilli is fresh with bite, crunchy sprouts, fresh herbs and lime.

Extras: 2 – Noodles were fine, the tea was decent

13/20

Address:

131 Nicholson Street Footscray, VIC

03 9041 2607

Pho Ta on Urbanspoon

Quang Minh Temple – Braybrook

 Noodle Soup

Heaven for Vegetarians

It would be true to say that Quang Minh Temple in Braybrook, located in Melbourne’s western suburbs, offers nothing short of a religious and cultural experience. A Buddhist temple for a large community of Vietnamese Buddhists, every Sunday it opens its gates for those seeking enlightenment or perhaps a culinary mini-break. We come for the latter.

In a food hall, which feels like a school gymnasium set up with endless rows of trestle tables and small plastic stools, vats of phở so big you can almost bathe in them are bubbling away. The atmosphere is bustling and the operation is an efficient production line. All you need to decide is how hungry you are. When you’re ready, line up, chose your size (small $6; large $8), pay, get a ticket, move along and hand it to the service lady and bingo, there is your steaming, fresh bowl made up right in front you on a tray.

Small and large bowls of ingredients lay waiting, when you hand over your ticket, the stock is poured onto the contents and topped with a large hand full of chopped iceberg lettuce and bean sprouts. Forget sauces, tea or table service, it’s up to you to pick up your cutlery from a self-service area and you have the option of super-hot fresh chilli and/or lemon. Go easy on the chilli, it really is fiery.

Not knowing what type of phở will be served on the day is a major draw card for those who like surprises. The offering changes every week and being part of a Buddhist temple, the best part is it’s all 100% vegetarian and very occasionally not vegan – sometimes there are egg noodles. We’ve never been disappointed, it’s always mouth watering.

This week they served the Hu Tieu Nam Vangwhich translates as Phnom Penh in Vietnamese – a light brown, clear, flavour-packed broth with a characteristic sweetness served with fried tofu skins, cashews, oyster mushrooms and ‘sausage’ plus square, chewy tapioca noodles. Tapioca noodles are an interesting change from the standard flat rice and they don’t go soft and soggy. This soup is a symphony, the various vegetables that make up the stock dance in tune on your palate. There is no flavour sacrifice, it may be vegetarian, but this is that will satisfy the carnivores.

But in the event that it doesn’t, stroll through the small undercover market on your way out and pick up a steamed bun, some faux chicken nuggets or fried ‘calamari’. Feeling like something sweet? How about a pandan waffle or three-colour drink? If you’re lucky the man selling the sugar cane drinks will be there too. You can also do your fruit and veg shopping.

Quang Minh Temple is not exactly conveniently located, unless you live in Braybrook, but it offers everything we’re looking for in the perfect mini-break: a touch of the exotic, excellent, cheap food and friendly people. It is a must for any phở-devotee. And for the vegetarians, it’s doesn’t get any better than this.

Stock: 5 – the Hi Tieu stock is unique, a little bit sweet and has tons of flavour, which can be a challenge when you’re going vegetarian

Inside: 5 – this isn’t the standard vego boiled vegetables plus tofu offering, it’s like a Kinder Surprise with fried tofu skin, mushrooms and ‘sausage’

On the side: 4 – chilli is fresh and fiery hot, the lemon delivers an additional tang, lettuce and sprouts are added by the server, so technically not on the side, one point lost for limited ability to customise

Extras: 3 – tapioca noodles are fantastic, there are no tea or condiments, but we are devout followers will continue to be back

Score: 17/20

Address:

18 Burke St, Braybrook VIC 3019

(03) 9312 5729

Every Sunday 10am to 2pm

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Hung Vuong Saigon – Footscray

Voung Hung

The benchmark for west-side phở, but not for vegetarians

The big daddy of the Footscray phở scene, Hung Vuong Saigon has been a key player on Hopkins Street for forever and a day. With 20+ tables, it is like a loud bustling food hall, packed with families, couples and friendly for the single reveller. It’s light on ambiance, but the food delivers and you’re not here for a first date, right.

Service is a well-(chilli)oiled machine, not particularly friendly, but easily forgiven for being so highly efficient. The food will be on the table before you have time to ponder: hoisin or no hoisin?

There is more on the menu than just phở, but why would you bother? You’re here for one reason only – great tasting phở – and so is the horde of Vietnamese and others. If the adage ‘go where the locals go’ holds any truth, this is the place to be. If you manage to get a table. Luckily the wait is never too long.

Phở comes in 3 sizes (small $8.50, medium $9.50, large $11) and with some variety, but the hero is the beef. All the classical variants: brisket, tendon, sausage and tripe for the more adventurous. Leave the vegetarians at home, these guys specialise in the authentic stuff, you won’t find a vegetarian option in sight.

You can tell they have been making this favourite staple in big steaming batches for a long, long time. The stock is perfectly balanced with uncompromising clarity. The flavour is strong, yet not overpowering, enhancing the overall experience without dominating it. I usually order the beef brisket. The finely-sliced brisket is added at the very last moment, so that it cooks as the hot soup is poured over it. Whilst the thicker-cut beef – with a little fat still left on – is added earlier allowing it to cook for longer. The fat may not be too healthy, but it adds to the flavour.

Noodles are the standard flat rice variety and you have to get in quick or they are prone to getting soggy. The bowl comes with little else beyond the beef and the noodles making personalisation a central task and there is plenty of ingredients to do so. Perfectly fresh greens are served on the side: cut chilli, Vietnamese mint, basil and bean sprouts.

Sauces are all the usual suspects’ including chilli sauce and chillies in oil, vinegar and hoisin. In addition to the usual sides, Hung Vuong also offers pickled sliced onion, which adds a tang and is well worth a try.

Hung Vuong doesn’t break from tradition or offer anything too unique, but what it does do, it does well. In many ways, this is the benchmark for west-side phở. Highly recommend.

  1. Stock: 5 – the stock is the benchmark for what all stocks should be compared against, it doesn’t do anything different, but it does it really well.
  2. Inside: 4 – good tasting meat, but the cut could be a little better.
  3. On the side: 4 – chilli is fresh with bite, crunchy sprouts and fresh herbs.
  4.  Extras: 4 – good noodles, an extra point for the pickled onions as something different, the tea is decent and I’ll be back (again and again).

Score: 17/20

Address: 128 Hopkins St Footscray VIC 3011
(03) 9689 6002

Pho Hung Vuong Saigon on Urbanspoon