Pho in San Francisco
Nearly 20 years on, this Vietnamese institution is still revered for its simple, flavorful pho ga. The Hanoi-style restaurant’s recipe hasn’t changed much over the years, and that’s a good thing: light, gingery broth bathes a generous serving of free-range poached chicken. The rice noodles here—thicker and chewier than the usual vermicelli—are a work of art
This mom-and-pop shop down the street from Turtle Tower serves up huge bowls of soup at wallet-friendly prices. Inside, giant pots simmering in the open kitchen infuse the bright, bi-level restaurant with sumptuous flavor. The specialty here is beef pho, a bowl of rich broth and noodles laden with thinly sliced rare steak. Pro tip: complete your meal with a coconut water, it pairs beautifully.
This unassuming, family-owned Vietnamese joint in Oakland is known for their signature beef stew—a hearty mix of beef brisket, flank, shank and tendon with carrots and onions. Order it with vermicelli rice noodles and you’ve got a decadent bo kho pho. On Wednesday nights, it’s worth eating it inside the spacious, no frills dining room where you can get a side of karaoke with your noodles.
Kevin's family-run mini-chain has several locations throughout the greater Bay Area, but this no-frills Sunset outpost is by far the most popular. With a recipe for sweet, spiced broth flavored with cardamom, cinnamon and star anise handed down over generations, it’s no surprise there’s often a line out the door. But never fear, the wait looks worse than it is: brusque-but-efficient servers and iPad ordering will have you happily slurping away in no time. For connoisseurs, the pho bo is unmatched, packed with thin-sliced steak, well-done brisket, flank, tendon and tripe.
A busty mannequin wearing a "Miss Saigon" sash greets customers at this eclectic SoMa Vietnamese eatery dressed up in lime green paint, elaborate chandeliers, drapery and plenty of Christmas lights. The pho tai mem here (affectionately referred to as 17b, after its designation on the menu) is the star of the show, packed with generous chunks of tender filet mignon submerged in a rich, spicy broth and topped with rice noodles, red onions and herbs. Vietnamese comfort food at its best.
This East Oakland restaurant is often mentioned at the top of the list of the East Bay’s favorite pho. The bun bo hue and pho ga are equally beloved, each with its own rich broth and served with plenty of herbs, veggies and condiments. Expect a crowd on the weekends; good pho comes to those who wait.
Jasmine Garden is set with white tablecloths, an unexpectedly refined touch in a city where the best pho is typically found at hole-in-the-wall establishments. The pho here will please eaters of all types. Traditionalists throng for the addictive lemongrass broth of the bun bo hue (a spicy beef pho from the Hue region of Vietnam), while vegetarians rejoice in a solid vegetable pho, heaped with bok choy, tofu, carrots, broccoli, and cilantro. The hearty soup is served at all hours of the day but only appears on the lunch menu. Be sure to ask for one if you can’t find it listed.
Craving a late night bowl of pho? Look no further than North Beach’s My Canh, which stays open six-days a week until 2am. Teeming with flavor and spice, My Canh’s complex beef, chicken and seafood broths will sober you right up. While pho is off the table for vegetarians, you can’t go wrong with the tasty vegetable vermicelli. Cash only.
The narrow, brightly lit challenger to nearby Kevin's isn't much to look at. But then again, no one's lining up for the ambiance. They're here for the curry coconut pho, an unusual spin on the classic recipe that involves a spicy coconut milk broth chock full of vermicelli noodles, chicken, potatoes and bean sprouts, with a spritz of lemon that lends an acidic kick to the flavorful broth. If you have room to spare, grab an order of garlic noodles on the side.
It's easy to miss this cash-only restaurant, tucked away down a tourist-free Chinatown alley. Start with the imperial roll (trust us), before moving on to the pho. If you’re willing to get authentic with your animal parts, the bun bo hue is the way to go—a spicy soup with rice vermicelli, beef shank, pig's knuckles, beef tendon and blood cubes. More conservative eaters will love the velvety five-spice chicken pho with extra-thick noodles that hold up to the hot broth. For a caffeine jolt, try Golden Star’s strong Vietnamese iced coffee.
Bun bo hue is the star at Pho King. Their version keeps things interesting with pork knuckle, beef slices, meatballs and pork blood in a spicy broth spiked with star anise. For less than $10 for an extra-large bowl, this mom-and-pop shop is as beloved by the Vietnamese community as it is by the rest of the East Bay.
Round woven lamps cast a soft glow, a colorful mural adorns the back wall, and there are a handful of beers on tap behind Mau's gleaming wooden counter. Purists may scoff at this hipster version of a Vietnamese joint but, if they just gave it a chance, the food would convince them otherwise: the restaurant is a collaboration between the former Slow Club chef Sante Salvoni and Tin Vietnamese owner Hung Dang. The deftly spiced pho bo (served with pickled onions) and gingery pho ga are particularly satisfying, especially when topped with a dollop of the restaurant's homemade sriracha.
Pho Tan Hoa specializes in the tried-and-true standard. Here, simple, fresh ingredients shine through the tightly-packed space’s cacophony of raucous eaters. In the traditional pho bo, the dark broth and thin, chewy rice noodles can be ordered with well-done brisket, rare steak, flank, tendon, tripe or beef balls. For a change of pace, try the pho kho, in which the broth is served on the side.
Before opening Mau in 2012, co-conspirator Hung Dang was busy with his first love, Tin, and the space here is just as inviting as his second restaurant: red accent wall, flattering lighting and long tables for larger groups. Tin is family-run and specializes in southern-style pho. The broth here is lighter, but no less flavorful, than their Tenderloin contemporaries, and comes in versions with poached chicken, rare beef and brisket, or tofu and vegetables. Due to its high-traffic SoMa location, Tin tends to draw a high-tech clientele who, after all, love pho just as much as the rest of us.
Offering what is quite possibly the largest bowl of pho in town, Yummy Yummy isn’t for the weak stomached. Their classic pho xe lua is virtually spilling over with flank, tripe, tendon, beef balls and steak so rare it will continue to cook in the super hot broth as you dig in. If beef isn’t your thing, select from ten other noodle soup dishes, including the mi vit tiem made with egg noodles, black trumpet mushrooms and duck thigh.