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

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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/

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