Want to eat something quick and fairly healthy without spending too many dollars? There’s one meal that is a solution to all of these dining quandaries, and it is the mighty, perfect, vibrant bowl of pho. Pho (pronounced fuh) is a Vietnamese dish often eaten for breakfast or lunch in Vietnam, but it’s of course great for dinner too.
For the uninitiated: Pho comes with several components. The base is a rich but clear beef broth, with a generous serving of rice noodles (that are somehow always the perfect texture, neither crisp nor soggy). Then, add the meat of your choosing, from rare, thin cut flank that cooks in the hot broth, to mystery meatballs and everything in between. Usually there is also thinly sliced onion and sometimes cilantro in the pho, and sometimes vegetables. Your steaming bowl of pho is always served with a plate of fresh herbs (always basil and sometimes additional herbs), sprouts, lime, and jalapenos. Squeeze the lime wedge into the bowl, and then add herbs, sprouts, and peppers to your liking, all at once or periodically throughout your dining experience.
There are also a variety of sauces provided, usually hoisin, sriracha, and chili paste. Some folks add the sauces right to their pho, although many purists insist that the proper approach is to use the small dishes provided to dip your meat into the sauce. Whatever approach you take with your pho, you’re sure to enjoy the national dish of Vietnam.
1. Pho Hoa
Pho Hoa is my go to choice in West Olympia. Fast, clean, healthy, and friendly, this chain prides itself on using fresh, natural ingredients to achieve great depth and flavor without the junk. They offer vegetarian options and their broths are gluten and MSG free. I usually splurge on a Vietnamese iced coffee with milk. The syrupy sweetened condensed milk mixes with the dark, rich Vietnamese coffee, which, when poured over ice, is always an exquisite treat. My favorite bowls at Pho Hoa are the flank and brisket, or, when I’m feeling brave, the “Adventurer’s Choice.” With brisket, flank, tripe, tendon, and fatty flank this dish is aptly named for the adventurous eater, but your risk will be rewarded with a rich variety of textures and flavors. Pho Hoa also has a Lacey location.
2. Pho Mania
Pho Mania is a popular Lacey restaurant serving up huge steaming bowls of pho with friendly service and a smile. One of the highest rated pho restaurants in the area, this pho joint offers huge bowls of flavorful pho at great prices. They offer three bowl sizes. We ordered larges and could barely finish, I can’t imagine how big the super is! Pho Mania is certainly a great choice for big appetites. They also have excellent Vietnamese coffee. Their broth is rich, robust, and flavorful, with chopped green onion and cilantro and of course the requisite herb plate.
3. Pho 111 – Tumwater
Pho 111-Tumwater offers consistent quality, and fast friendly service. Everything is good here and I find their broth to be especially smooth, rich, and flavorful. Try the brisket and flank, or if you’re a fan of spicy food try the bun bo hue. Great prices and fast service also make this my favorite for take-out pho. Nothing beats sitting down to a steaming bowl of expertly made pho in the comfort of your own home after a difficult day.
4. Little Da Nang
It took me a long time to give Little Da Nang in downtown Olympia a try. Nestled in their new location between the Spar and Caffe Vita downtown, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but when you step in, you are greeted by tasteful décor and delightful aromas. The menu here differs a little from your standard pho joint, with more options and different variations on the standard beef pho. The Little Da Nang pho features roasted chicken and pork, served on the side for you to add to your pho to your liking. The flavorful, almost smoky pork and chicken are delicious mixed in with your steaming broth, noodles, and fresh herbs. They also have the more standard steak, brisket and flank phos, which are great, but I highly recommend the Little Da Nang Pho. They also use their roasted chicken and pork in their fresh rolls, which are some of the best I’ve ever eaten! I am also a fan of their pho ga, which is chicken pho in a delicate chicken broth. And they are open until 11:00 p.m., much later than any other pho restaurant, for your late night pho fix.
Sometimes after enjoying a filling, tasty, nutritious bowl of pho and settling the $15 – $20 bill for an entire dinner, my husband and I will wonder out loud “why does anyone eat anything else?” As cheap as fast food and a whole lot better, a bowl of pho is a go to meal that never disappoints. There are plenty more great pho restaurants around town that I look forward to trying.