For those unfamiliar, pho is a popular Vietnamese dish consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat (most popular are beef or chicken). To me, it’s delicousness in a bowl. Often mispronounced as ‘foe,’ pho should be pronounced ‘fuh’ (I asked my Vietnamese friends on this one). With this pronunciation, there’s a ton of great sayings the restaurants can play with. ‘Pho-natic’, ‘Westbank Pho Life,’ ‘Pho sho,’ you name it. Hence, the awesome opportunity to create the title for this post.
When this topic was suggested in our group of contributors, I was excited to scoop it up. I typically eat pho once a week, so the opportunity to eat MORE pho and write about it was a no brainer.
What is pho?
If you haven’t tried this über popular Vietnamese dish, New Orleans is the place to do it. We have a large Vietnamese population here, many on the West Bank. When they began to arrive in 1975, there was a tight housing market so they migrated outside of the city center. This is why some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll find requires a short drive across the Mississippi. I know this is something most East Bankers prefer not to do, but those who know good pho will make the pilgrimage.
Emeril’s top pick
It would be blasphemous not to discuss Pho Tau Bay, the quaint Gretna eatery visited by the likes of Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. True foodies know these names, impressive to say the least. Emeril even named their pho ga the best chicken soup he ever ate. My two year old son Jude and I agree! We’ve had play dates here, and the staff is super accommodating to a bunch of antsy toddlers. If I had my choice of any Vietnamese restaurant in the city, it would be here. The broth takes eight hours to make, and you can taste the love that went into it. When you order the pho, you’ll receive a giant bowl of fragrant broth, noodles and chicken. On the side, another giant bowl with generous helpings of herbs, lime, sprouts, jalapenos and various sauces. Add a little extra of the spicy sriracha sauce, and you have the cure for the common cold. If you order the beef, it often comes rare and cooks in the hot broth once delivered to your table. The spring rolls are also worth mention; order them as an appetizer if you go.
Battle of the bowls
My love affair with pho initially started at Pho Bang, which has locations in Metairie, Harvey and Gretna. I’ve since had it at multiple restaurants, and I love how the broth differs from place to place, much like how every good Cajun has their own take on gumbo. Be prepared before you go, the staff speaks minimal English. But for only $6, you can get a regular bowl (which is quite large) with generous amounts of herbs and sprouts. Fellow contributor Andie loves Pho Orchid, which she says is “our favorite in Metairie and SO family friendly!” In addition to an extensive menu, they also offer a wide variety of Vietnamese beverages, including boba tea. The cocktail pictured on their home page was enough to lure me. They even deliver!
An uptown spin on pho
My trendiest and most unique pho experience came courtesy of Magasin, a hip Vietnamese café uptown. Its sleek, modern décor and large windows make this a popular lunch spot. I arrived a little before noon, which was perfect timing, as the crowds started to come in around 1 pm. You can dine at the bar or a table, and you get cozy with your neighbors since the seating is close together. I didn’t mind it at all, since this is the setup for other popular New Orleans fare. I went sans Jude, but the table next to us brought a toddler who happily munched on french bread the whole time. The staff was super friendly and helpful, making great suggestions as to what we should order. We started our meal with the most refreshing veggie & avocado spring rolls. The avocado gave a nice creamy balance to the roll. For our entrée, we enjoyed a lemongrass chicken and rice dish (topped with a fried egg) and a huge bowl of filet pho. Yes, that’s right! My pho had filet in it. The broth also had little pieces of garlic in it, which I loved. This was the most gourmet bowl of pho I’ve enjoyed. And if you overdo the sriracha, they offer some delicious iced teas such as mango peach and cucumber. While the atmosphere and the ingredients were more gourmet, the prices were still great. A bowl of pho is $9, and the portion is very generous. I will definitely be back to try even more of their items.
Aside from enjoying various cultural foods myself, I love exposing my son to them. He may not eat a turkey sandwich or a hot dog, but he loves a good bowl of pho.