Philadelphia is home to the East Coast’s largest population of immigrants from Vietnam, making Philly one of the best Vietnamese food areas in country. featured are five essential stops along South Philly's 'Pho Row.'
Although there are Vietnamese restaurants located throughout the Philadelphia region, they're mostly concentrated in South Philly Washington Avenue, a busy two-way artery where the city’s Italian, Mexican, and Southeast Asian traditions intermingle. From the 16-block stretch of Point Breeze to Pennsport, and you’ll find an abundance of pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup known for its fragrant broth, of aromatics like cinnamon, clove, and star anise.
At the westernmost point of "Pho Row" is this restaurant, slipped into one side of a multi-purpose building in nondescript Hoa Binh Plaza. (Search for the side door across from a Dunkin’ Donuts.) The restaurant is as friendly to its non-Viet clientele as to native speakers, and offers nearly two dozen riffs on the noodle soup, including a Pho Dac Biet overflowing with flank steak, brisket, meatballs, tendon, and tripe. If you’re not in a meaty mood, try the excellent Bun Rieu Cua, with stewed tomatoes, crispy tofu, and battered soft shell crab in a rich seafood broth. 1601 Washington Avenue, 215-545-4067
If an unvarnished and utilitarian experience is what you seek, head to Pho 75, in the bustling Vietnamese shopping center Wing Phat Plaza. The frill-free parlor is an ideal entry point for newcomers to pho, as there aren’t a million other menu options. There's soup, and only soup. Simply select a size—“Regular” is large, “Large” can easily be shared by two—and toppings (best for beginners: meatballs and well-done flank steak). The staff could set records for its efficient turnaround, with servers who basically sprint the hot broth to your table. 1122 Washington Avenue, 215-271-5866
Across the Wing Phat parking lot from Pho 75 you'll spot the crimson-awnings of Nam Phuong, the heftiest Pho Row destination in terms of both its menu and its sheer physical size (there’s rarely a wait). And while its menu options are diverse and delicious—the vermicelli bowls, broken rice platters, and sautéed seafood alone will keep diners busy for weeks—it also serves a formidable pho. All the requisite beef-based styles can be found here, as well as more nuanced bowls like the Pho Ga, with hunks of bone-in, dark-meat chicken in an aromatic chicken broth. This is also one of the few South Philly Viet restaurants with a liquor license; a frosty bottle of 33 Export, a Vietnamese beer brewed by Heineken, comes in handy when you overdo it on the crushed chili. 1100-1120 Washington Avenue, 215-468-0410, namphuongphilly.com
A true local gem, the tiny family-owned Diem is known for its excellent interpretation of one soup in particular: Bun Bo Hue, the signature dish of the central Vietnamese city of Hue. It can be distinguished from classic pho in a number of ways. Its broth is more meaty and fiery, as opposed to subtly scented; its meat, which can include pork hocks and ham in addition to beef; and even its thicker noodles, somewhere between Chinese lamian and spaghetti in texture. 1031 South Eighth Street, 215-923-8347
Situated in a shopping center abutting the banks of the Delaware River, Pho Saigon sits about as far east as Pho Row—and the city of Philadelphia—goes. All your fragrant and highly customizable pho choices are present here, including upgrades like a version topped with thin-sliced rare ribeye (the same cut used in quality cheesesteaks). But Saigon also serves some more specific soup styles, including Pho Bap Bo, built around slow-simmered beef shanks; and Mien Ga, made with shredded chicken and glass noodles. Bonus draw: It’s BYOB and right next door to Beer Heaven, a well-stocked craft beer bottle shop. Lagers work particularly well with pho—try Victory’s Prima Pils, Sly Fox Helles, or Yuengling. 1100 South Columbus Boulevard, 267-773-7305
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